Less clear to many people, but not
to me, is the media effect defense. The “Ozzy Made Me Do It” or “Gordon
Freeman Told Me to Kill” defenses so popular these days are pretty much
hogwash as far as I’m concerned. I wallow in media messages of murder
and mayhem and grew up enjoying first-person shooters from the beginning
of the genre and I’m as sane as you are (At least to the legal
definition: I can distinguish between right and wrong and could assist
in my own defense if necessary). Sure, Grand Theft Auto and Doom III and
Insane Clown Posse desensitize us to violence, but so did Shakespeare,
bear baiting and the Coliseum.
I bring all of this up as introduction to the case of Isaac Gutierrez,
Jr., a former State of California forest service firefighter who got
drunk, felt his manhood was being threatened and struck back like he
felt his culture demanded. As a result a couple of people ended up dead.
Using both the SODDI and Not My
Fault defenses, Isaac tried to convice a California jury that he wasn’t
to blame for a pair of murders around Halloween 1986.
Things started to go bad when
Isaac became an alcoholic. In 1983, Isaac was fired from his state
fireman’s job because of his drinking. A little while later, he was
stopped for drunk driving and while intoxicated decided to evade arrest,
leading the CHiPs on a high-speed chase. He was subsequently caught and
convicted of assault with a deadly weapon (automobile) on a peace
officer and bought himself a four-year prison term.
While he was in prison, his wife, Rose, decided she could do better, and
filed for divorce.
Isaac said later that he felt it
was “like the end of my life.” He was served with the divorce papers and
a restraining order preventing him from visiting his wife and 5-year-old
daughter while he was serving his time.
One day, he called home and a man’s voice answered the phone. He became
understandably hostile during the call and threatened the man at the
other end of the line.
In August 1986, Isaac was released
from prison and later claimed that the person who was living with his
wife, John Stopher, called him and threatened to kill him if he showed
up around Rose’s Hesperia, California home.
What Isaac did not know was that Stopher was in fact a 25-year-old
transsexual who was taking massive amounts of hormones in preparation
for sex-change surgery.
When Stopher was dressed, almost no one would suspect that physically,
he was a female. Stopher had a full beard and deep voice and dressed and
acted as a man. He simply hadn’t made the final cosmetic change yet.
Isaac became even angrier when he
talked with his 5-year-old daughter, who told him Stopher wanted her to
call him “Dad.”
Knowing that he would violate the restraining order and his parole,
Isaac decided to confront Stopher and his estranged wife.
Isaac’s sister was married to a cop who had several guns in his home,
and Isaac need access to them. He told his brother-in-law that he needed
to be picked up from a local mall as a ruse to get the man out of his
While his brother-in-law waited
for an hour outside a Montgomery Ward department store, Isaac broke into
his house and took a shotgun and two pistols from his home.
Isaac placed the guns in a van owned by his girlfriend, Billie Faye
Jones, a 41-year-old single mother who worked as a medical billing clerk
at a nearby hospital.
Next, he drove to the Greyhound bus terminal and picked up his
15-year-old son from a previous marriage who was visiting for a couple
It was Halloween 1986, which explained why Isaac had a couple of masks
and wigs in the van when he picked up his son, Joseph.
Explaining that he had “a little
something to take care of,” he had Joseph put on a mask and cape and did
“Dad, I don’t want to do this,” Joseph said. “I don’t want to be
involved in it.”
In response, Isaac smacked his son on the side of the head, threatened
him with a gun and ordered him to assist him with what was about to go
Isaac rang the doorbell and Rose answered. He forced his way inside,
threw Rose to the ground and ordered Joseph to cover her while he went
looking for John Stopher.
John was in the shower when Isaac barged in and let loose with a
12-gauge shotgun blast to the face.
Not satisfied with simply killing
Stopher, Isaac unleashed a volley of four or five additional rounds into
Returning to the front hall where Rose was cowering on the ground, Isaac
hit her in the head with the butt of the shotgun.
“Your boyfriend back there, he’s gone,” Isaac said. “He’s gone; we blew
The killers dragged Rose back to the van and while Isaac drove, Joseph
tied her up with some ropes in the back of the van.
Heading south on I-15 toward San Bernardino, Isaac instructed his son to
rape Rose, which he proceeded to do.
They drove on for some time,
stopping once for gas. Near Coachella, the van was stopped by police
officer David Dunavent. It was shortly after midnight, November 1, 1986.
Explaining that he stopped Isaac because the van had a headlight out,
Officer Dunavent asked Isaac for his license and registration, which he
could not provide. The officer then asked Isaac to step out of the van
and they walked to the rear of the vehicle.
As Officer Dunavent looked in
through the rear window of the van and saw a face looking back at him,
he became, for that instant, the luckiest man on the planet.
Isaac placed the stolen .38 revolver against the cop’s neck and pulled
the trigger. Dunavent heard the revolver dry fire and spun around,
pulling his own weapon.
He ordered Isaac to drop the pistol, but Isaac pulled the trigger a
second time. This time the gun discharged and short gun battle ensued.
Joseph bailed out of the van with the shotgun and fired several rounds.
Fortunately, the only person who was hit was Isaac who was winged twice
by Officer Dunavent.
Shortly afterward, other officers
arrived and arrested Isaac and Joseph.
In the emergency room of the JFK Memorial Hospital in Riverside,
California, Isaac admitted killing Stopher and hinted at even more evil.
“Oh, God. Oh, God. I didn’t mean to kill both of them,” Isaac told the
detective who was administering a GSR test. “Oh, What did I do? Did I
kill them? Tell the officer I’m sorry. Tell him I’m sorry.”
Three days later, the van was transferred to the custody of the San
Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department and stored in its impound lot.
Detective Gary Stroup, who was working the Rose Gutierrez/John Stopher
case, visited the lot to take a look around. Opening the van, he was
confronted with a stench that anyone who has ever smelled it will never
On a rear bench seat, wrapped in a
rug was the decomposing body of Billie Jones. She had been strangled
with a garrote, which was still wound around her neck. The coroner
estimated the date of death to be mid-afternoon on Halloween.
Forensics linked the wooden ends of the garrote to a dowel found at the
home where Isaac was staying, but Isaac blamed Jones’s death on drug
He admitted that he stole the van, but said he did not know her body was
inside it when he took it that fateful Halloween day.
However, also in the van, detectives found the following notes on the
back of an envelope:
Mon. call Rose, Wed. gather all
necessities, lic. plates off comm van, wig spook/Halloween store, wig
shop, call/Billy dinner, make garrote. Friday rendezvous w/J 1300
DEADLINES: Call Billy 3:00, J5:00, ETA 5 PM Get to VV, *Call Don Oakes
for closing time, carpet . . . gas cans . . . shovels.
Isaac said he made the garrote at
Jones’s request, because “she thought she might need it later on down
He spent the day before the murders drinking and taking the
methamphetamine that Jones had given him. He said Jones’s dealer, a man
he knew only as “Pablo” probably killed her.
During his trial, Isaac tried everything he could to push the blame for
his acts on others.
He admitted that he was angry when
he broke into Rose and John Stopher’s home, and was shocked when he
confronted the naked Stopher in the shower.
He claimed he killed Stopher because Stopher took his life.
He denied telling his son to rape Rose and was unable to explain why he
forced Rose to accompany them.
As for trying to kill Officer
Dunavent, he claimed he only fired at Dunavent after the officer drew
his revolver and shot him in the leg.
To bolster his Not My Fault defense, Isaac presented two expert
witnesses. One, an anthropologist who specialized in Hispanic culture,
testified that protecting the family’s honor is a strong component of
the Mexican-American subculture. The expert testified that a man might
be expected to take aggressive or even violent action, especially when
homosexuality and lesbianism is involved. He went on to say he would
expect a response of outrage from an imprisoned Hispanic male whose wife
was divorcing him for another woman, regardless of the other woman’s
intentions to become a man.
A clinical psychologist who studied Isaac found frontal lobe
abnormalities that could have been aggravated by drug and alcohol use.
Frontal lobe abnormalities have been correllated to violence.
The jury took all of this under
advisement and convicted Isaac Gutierrez of two counts of first degree
murder, burglary, kidnapping, and aiding and abetting a forcible rape.
They found special circumstances were present and sentenced him to
So far on appeal, Isaac’s convictions have been, for the most part,