Police Sgt. Gene T. Nash died after a shootout with robbery suspects in
an apartment house on Budlong just south of Adams. In a televised
ceremony, Police Chief William H. Parker presented his widow, Cynthia,
with her husband’s Medal of Valor.
that’s only the beginning of the story. Unfortunately, many pieces of
the puzzle are missing from The Times, so the picture is incomplete.
This is what we know:
Nash, 32, and Sgt. W.F. Bitterolf of the
Robbery Division, accompanied by Sgts. S.O. Eastenson and C.E. Leonard,
went to the apartment house at 2723 S. Budlong Ave. to investigate
whether members of a crime ring were hiding there. According to The
Times, a group of robbers had been holding up crap games, taking $7 to $140.
The Times says Eastenson and Leonard waited outside while Nash and
Bitterolf forced their way into the apartment. They found Virgil Lee,
24; Herman Cosby, 35, Rebecca Turner Bly, 29; and Geraldine Brown, 24,
who told them that the only other person in the apartment was her
6-year-old son, who was asleep in a back bedroom.
the first bedroom locked. As he went through the bathroom into the
second bedroom, he was shot three times in the chest, once in the right
arm and once in the left hand. He dropped by the bed where the boy was
sleeping. Despite his wounds, Nash drew his revolver and shot Bennie
Will Meyes, 31, once in the leg and once in the hand that was holding
Meyes fell and then jumped out a window while Nash
shot William Douglas, 29, in the back as he was hiding in a closet,
leaving him in critical condition.
Bitterolf rushed into the
bedroom and told Nash that an ambulance was coming. "He said ‘I don’t
think it will do any good. I don’t think I’ll make it,’ " Bitterolf told
Outside the apartment, Eastenson and Leonard heard
the shots, saw Meyes jump out the window and caught him after
chasing him for a block. And somehow, Bly’s 6-year-old boy slept
through the entire incident, The Times said.
All three men
were evidently taken to Central Receiving Hospital and before he died, Nash
identified Meyes as the gunman. Meyes denied shooting Nash while
Douglas admitted owning the gun but said he had given it to Meyes.
In the ensuing investigation, police arrested another apartment
resident, Walter Payne, 35, at Century and Sepulveda boulevards; Olivia
Chapman, 25, identified as Meyes’ girlfriend; James Williams, 23; Betty
Logan, 23; and Willie M. Davis, 23, 1024 E. 75th St., just off Florence
The case was presented to the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, The
Times said, and Meyes and Douglas were indicted on charges of murder.
of officers attended Nash’s funeral and he was buried at Rose Hills
In addition to his wife, Nash was survived by a 2-year-old daughter.
His widow was presented with his Medal of Valor. And then silence. As far as I can determine, The Times never wrote a word about the trial or sentencing.
But that’s the not the end of the story.
reasons that aren’t clear, Douglas and Meyes weren’t charged with
murder. Instead, they were accused of robbery, assault with intent to
commit murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
According to legal documents, Meyes and Douglas were given a public
defender. But at the opening of the trial, the lawyer asked for a
continuance, saying that he hadn’t time to prepare the case. It
was complicated, he had too many other cases, and Meyes
and Douglas wanted separate attorneys, he said.
Meyes and Douglas fired their attorney because he was unprepared, asked
for a continuance and filed a request for separate defense lawyers.
These motions were denied and the men were convicted. Meyes was judged
a habitual criminal and given a life sentence. Douglas was sentenced to
five years to life.
They first appealed to California courts, and because they had no
money, asked for a lawyer to be appointed for them. The state Court of
Appeal upheld their convictions without appointing an attorney for
them, saying that "no good whatever could be served by appointment of
counsel." The California Supreme Court denied their petitions for a
review without giving them a hearing.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for the men, who were represented by Marvin M. Mitchelson,
(yes he’s the "palimony" lawyer) and Burton Marks. It’s interesting to
see two familiar names on the men’s legal team: Fred Okrand and A.L.
Wirin, who often worked with the ACLU, although it’s not clear if this
was an ACLU case.
Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the majority: "Where the merits of the one and only
appeal an indigent has as of right
are decided without benefit of counsel in a state criminal case, there
has been a discrimination between the rich and the poor which violates
the 14th Amendment."
On June 20, 1964, The Times reported that Meyes and Douglas had been
granted new trials. Unfortunately, The Times apparently never followed
up on whether the men were retried.
I have one hunch about why The Times largely ignored this case, but
it’s only a hunch. Notice that we never ran pictures of Meyes or
Douglas. Notice that the robbers were preying on crap games. Notice
that one individual lived near Central and Florence. If either of the
suspects were African American, it might explain The Times’ lack of
coverage. Stay tuned and I’ll see what I can find out.
Read the Supreme Court decision >>>