An appeals court Monday affirmed the conviction of an Orange County engineer for the 1979 murder of a 28-year-old Torrance nurse he had briefly dated.
Douglas Gordon Bradford was sentenced on Dec. 12, 2014, to 26 years to life in prison in the strangulation death of Lynne Knight.
Bradford, 65, maintained that someone else committed the crime, calling Knight’s killing “a terrible tragedy,” but telling the court shortly before sentencing, “I’m an innocent man wrongly convicted. I’m mad as hell I’m paying for someone else’s crime.”
Bradford’s attorney appealed on the basis that much of the circumstantial evidence at trial should not have been admitted and that the jury should have been told about two other potential suspects interviewed by police.
Bradford’s appeals lawyer also argued that Bradford was prejudiced by a more than 30-year delay in prosecuting the murder.
The three-justice appeals panel of the Second District Court of Appeal found no prejudicial error.
The panel’s ruling laid out the grisly details of Knight’s death at her Anza Avenue home.
“Around 3:00 a.m. on August 30, 1979, Knight was murdered in her backlot apartment. While Knight laid in her bed, naked, the killer sat astride her and pushed down on her neck with a homemade garrote — that is, a piece of wire strung between two pieces of wood,” the court’s opinion stated. “The killer crushed her windpipe, so Knight’s screams sounded more like the cries of an animal being slaughtered.
Unable to dispatch her with the garrote, the killer got up, retrieved a 10-inch knife from her kitchen and proceeded to `slice, dice and butcher’ her, ultimately severing her femoral artery. Knight bled to death.”
Knight had more than 15 stab wounds and one of her breasts was also mutilated post-mortem.
Bradford had dated Knight, who worked as a neonatal nurse at Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, for about four months earlier that year.
Knight broke off the relationship, which Bradford wanted to be exclusive, in June. The next day he showed up uninvited and found her with another man.
“Defendant was furious, called her a `goddamn whore,’ and threw a lamp at her,” according to the appeals panel opinion.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said at trial that Bradford was “obsessed” with Knight and kept a photo of her in his desk drawer as a “trophy.”
Bradford offered an alibi for the murder, saying he was out sailing at night with no running lights and didn’t get back until 3 a.m. because the wind had died out. He said he had to row the 4,600-pound boat back into the marina with a four-foot oar, according to court documents.
Police suspended the investigation in 1982 for lack of sufficient evidence and then reopened the case in 2000. In 2007, they searched Bradford’s residence and his mother’s home.
The prosecution said wire found in the back of paintings belonging to Bradford’s mother was similar to that used to make the garrote.
Defense attorney Robert Shapiro told the trial judge that Bradford would not have been convicted three decades earlier if the case had been brought then and questioned whether the wire in those paintings even existed in 1979.
Shapiro told jurors that they had not seen “one real piece of evidence,” asserting that some evidence wasn’t collected while other evidence was destroyed.
Lewin countered that the circumstantial evidence was “overwhelming,” calling the defendant “a murderous monster” who “needs to be held accountable.”
Jurors deliberated less than three days before returning their verdict against Bradford, who was an engineering student at Cal State Long Beach at the time of the crime.
The appeals panel ruled that the failure to collect certain evidence doesn’t independently violate a defendant’s constitutional rights and failure to retain evidence only does so if evidence was destroyed in bad faith.
As for witnesses who could no longer be called decades after the crime occurred, the panel found no evidence that it would have changed the outcome at trial.
“Defendant has provided no evidence indicating that the other unavailable witnesses would have provided any evidence exonerating him or impeaching the prosecution’s case,” the court ruled.
Prosecutorial delays were justified and there was probable cause for the 2007 warrants, according to the court’s analysis.
As for the other potential suspects, the appeals court said there was not enough evidence to link either of the two men to the crime and “mere motive or opportunity to commit the crime” was insufficient to warrant their mention at trial.
One man just happened to be in the neighborhood and no connection to Knight was uncovered.
The other man cited by Bradford had dated Knight. “He was `distraught’ and fully cooperated with police by granting them permission to search his house and his car. No evidence linking him to the murder was recovered,” according to the appeals panel.
–City News Service