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`HE'S JUST SO CLEVER, THOUGH, AND KNOWS HOW TO PLAY THE SYSTEM.' : LAWSUITS LET MURDERER DELAY DAY OF JUSTICE.

Byline: Dennis McCarthy

She would have been 34 today. Instead, Lynette Ledford is frozen forever at age 16 - a pretty Sun Valley teen-ager who made a fatal mistake on Halloween night 1979, and accepted a ride with a mass murderer.

He should be dead today. Instead, Larry Bittaker, the former Burbank mechanic sentenced to die 17 years ago for brutally murdering seven young girls, including Ledford, heads a real growth industry in this country.

He sits in a prison cell on San Quentin's Death Row dreaming up frivolous lawsuits to file. His latest suit is for being served broken cookies and soggy sandwiches at prison meals.

Don't try to figure it out or understand it. You can't. Nobody can. It's insane. All you'll wind up doing is getting your blood pressure up too high again.

``Of all the people on Death Row, he (Bittaker) deserves to die more than any of them,'' says Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay, who prosecuted Bittaker back in 1980 for the brutal murders.

But instead of death, Bittaker has become the ``star filer'' of frivolous prison lawsuits.

``He shouldn't even be eating broken cookies and soggy sandwiches, he should be executed,'' says Kay, who is now head deputy in the District Attorney's Office in Long Beach. ``He's just so clever, though, and knows how to play the system.''

The system. It stinks.

The appeals process seems to be a never ending one for Bittaker who uses the ploy of firing his attorneys at the last minute to forestall the inevitable - a trip to San Quentin's ``Green Room'' for a couple of injections.

``After running out of state appeals, his case went up to the federal court, but he's gone through four or five attorneys since then, and the federal court judge was so exasperated, he sent the case back to the state,'' Kay said.

``Right now, it's in limbo. The state Attorney General's Office, and everybody involved in this case is just so frustrated.

``I've told family members of the victims to try to put some pressure on Gov. (Pete) Wilson,'' Kay said. ``Maybe that'll help.''

In the meantime, Bittaker, now 57, continues to creep toward Social Security age. His victims never made it out of their teens.

``He's even tried to fake insanity by drinking water out of his toilet bowl,'' Kay said. ``When prison officials figured out he was doing it just to get a transfer off of Death Row, he stopped.''

Sometime today, after the sitter arrives to watch her young son, Sherry will drive over to Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills, and spend some time with her former best friend on her birthday.

She will sit by Lynette Ledford's grave, and talk about old times, about how happy they were as teen-agers back in 1978 - how they were so full of life and looking forward to the one thing they both wanted so badly.

To one day get married and have children.

``I got to fulfill my dream,'' said Sherry, now 33, holding a card from 1978 signed by Lynette to her best friend. She requested I not use her last name because she still lives in paralyzing fear of killers like Bittaker.

``Lynette never had the chance to fulfill her dream,'' she says, pausing and reading some warm, tender words she has written for her best friend's 34th birthday.

But the anger, the hate of Bittaker, is never very far from the surface for Sherry.

``I wish I could share broken cookies with my friend,'' she says, her voice growing icy cold. ``But she was brutally raped and tortured to death by a man who's now crying about broken cookies.

``I hope he chokes on those broken cookies,'' Sherry said.

``Lynette's been forgotten by most people, but not her family or me. There's not a week that goes by that I don't think of her, and the long walks and talks we used to share about our futures. I still miss her. It still hurts.

``And the guy who was sentenced to death 17 years ago for murdering her? He's still being supported by the taxpayers, still alive and laughing at us every time he files another frivolous lawsuit.

``It's an outrage,'' says Lynette Ledford's best and last friend on the eve of another lost birthday.

She right, but outrage doesn't quite get it.

It's insane.
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 4, 1997
Words:724
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