The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to hear the case of a prolific burglar-turned-murderer who was behind bars for the 1980 killings of a Santa Monica couple when he was charged with the 1972 slaying of a 79-year-old Hollywood woman.
The state’s highest court denied a defense petition seeking its review of the case against Harold Holman, who was convicted last year of first-degree murder for Helen Meyler’s August 1972 bludgeoning death.
In a June 30 ruling, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that the nearly 43- year-old delay in filing a case against Holman prejudiced his ability to defend himself against the latest charge.
The defense contended that Holman’s employment records might have provided an alibi if DNA from the murder scene had been tested earlier, but the appellate court justices found there was no evidence that such records would have been available to him if he had been charged sooner.
“Even if such records were available and had been produced, they would at best have been some circumstantial evidence of a possible alibi. Defendant’s prejudice showing was purely speculative,” the panel found in its seven-page ruling. “The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied his motion to dismiss.”
Holman was sentenced in July 2016 to a potential life prison term after being convicted of first-degree murder for Meyler’s killing.
DNA evidence from a blanket found at the scene of Meyler’s killing was linked to Holman after the Los Angeles Police Department’s Cold Case unit re- opened an investigation into the crime, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said.
The prosecutor said it was a “perfect example of a case that would never have been solved but for the DNA evidence.”
Holman was serving a 45-year prison sentence at the time for the January 1980 bludgeoning deaths of 67-year-old Gertrude Forst and her 72-year-old husband, Otto, in their eighth-floor unit in a Santa Monica apartment building.
Meyler, a widow who lived alone in a second-floor apartment in a secured building, was found dead in bed with a pillow covering her head, the prosecutor said. Meyler’s apartment had been ransacked, and her assailant had likely entered through a sliding-glass window, Silverman told jurors.
The woman was bludgeoned with a candelabra that had been a 50th anniversary gift from her husband, the prosecutor said outside court.
During an interview in state prison in December 2014, Holman admitted to Los Angeles police detectives that he had been involved in a series of similar crimes, including the killings of the Forsts, and acknowledged that he had “made a career out of being a high-rise burglar” in incidents in which law enforcement referred to the culprit as “Spider-Man,” the deputy district attorney said during her opening statement to jurors in Holman’s trial.
Holman said during the prison interview that he had special shoes with suction cups on them and that he wore night-vision goggles during the burglaries, the prosecution’s first witness, Los Angeles Police Detective Richard Bengtson, testified during the trial.
Holman was initially arrested in 1975 after an LAPD surveillance team that was looking into a series of high-rise residential burglaries watched him scale the outside of a 14-story apartment building and move from balcony to balcony, and he was in custody for several years before resuming his criminal activity, the prosecutor said.
Along with the killings of the Forsts, Holman was involved in two other break-ins in January 1980 — one in which he shot and killed a woman’s 12-year- old Dachshund and the other in which a woman locked herself in a bathroom and screamed for help, Silverman told jurors. The latter resulted in a manhunt in which a Santa Monica police K9 was called in to help Los Angeles police apprehend him, according to the prosecutor.
Holman’s trial attorney, Robin L. Baessler, called it a “tragic case,” but urged jurors to keep an open mind about “whether or not there is reasonable doubt for the charged crime.”
She noted that Meyler was killed 44 years earlier in a crime without any eyewitnesses and that Holman was never considered a suspect until LAPD cold case detectives re-opened the case.
The defense lawyer questioned whether Meyler’s killing was that similar to the other crimes, and asked them to conclude that there was “reasonable doubt.”
One of the victim’s granddaughters, Nikki Meyler Miller, told the judge at Holman’s sentencing that her grandmother “spent much of her life helping others” and had moved to a security apartment building after her husband’s death because she felt exposed and unsafe after her husband’s death shortly after their 50th wedding anniversary.
“Her death was devastating to our family,” she said, noting that her grandmother had decided to stay home from a family vacation at the last minute and that her body was discovered when a family member came to pick her up for church.
“Two of her children and two of her grandchildren have passed, but when the detectives told us they had identified the killer, we were all relieved to find out he had been in prison for most of those years. And that is all we are asking for now — to keep him in prison until he is no longer breathing, and prevent any parole or compassionate release at any time, now or ever,” the victim’s granddaughter said last year.
–City News Service