Epilogues for the Cast
(“Pinned by the Evidence,” Forensic Files)
After doing some elementary research on California self-defense laws, I’m starting to understand how two juries found David Genzler guilty of charges related to his struggle with Dusty Harless.
Last week’s post told the story of how Genzler ended up in jail for his actions during a 1996 street fight in San Diego that was doubtlessly initiated by Harless.
Two on one. Offended that Genzler offered his girlfriend, Sky Flanders, a ride and called her “baby” — or some other slightly inappropriate term — the former college wrestling champion straightened out the non-issue by pinning him to the ground.
Scott Davis, a Harless associate, joined the fray by kicking Genzler, who pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed Harless.
During the first trial, blood evidence seemed to support the theory that Harless and Genzler, both 25 years old, were face to face when the knife wound happened, although the defense maintained Harless had Genzler pinned face to the ground.
The law gives the right to defend yourself when you reasonably believe you’re in “imminent danger of being killed, hurt, or molested, believe immediate force is necessary, and use no more force than necessary.”
Sharp outcome. I tend to think anyone violent enough to pin a stranger to the ground over a minor provocation is also dangerous enough to kill someone whether intentionally or not.
But that’s me. (I’m also the person who still stands far from the edges of subway platforms because I once read about a mentally ill man who pushed a woman onto the tracks in 1985.)
California state law — and unwritten guy code — probably assumes no one is likely to die from a weaponless street fight, hence pulling out a knife during such a struggle constitutes more force than necessary.
Face to face, it’s more likely Genzler intended to inflict a deadly wound, which explains the second-degree murder conviction at the first trial.
Newer laws. The jury at the second trial believed Genzler’s contention that Harless had him pinned face to the ground, meaning Genzler reached backward with his knife without necessarily intending to hit a major artery, hence the manslaughter conviction.
Either way, Genzler might have fared better under the Stand Your Ground laws that states started passing in 2005. They specify that as long as the victim didn’t make the first strike, he doesn’t necessarily have to retreat or run away when he feels threatened.
A defense lawyer today could make a case that brandishing a knife is simply standing your ground.
Fortunately, manslaughter verdict notwithstanding, the second judge sentenced Genzler to time served and set him free.
Legal recourse. Still, Genzler, a finance student who had no criminal history prior to the Harless tragedy, had to spend at least three years in prison, presumably with hardened criminals.
Genzler did get some satisfaction in the matter when he sued Deputy District Attorney Peter Longanbach for prosecutorial misconduct related to false testimony from Sky Flanders. (It’s not clear whether it applied to both trials or just the first one.)
According to the suit, the night of the Harless stabbing, Flanders told police that Harless “flip[ped] Genzler to the ground, and Genzler stabbed Harless while Harless held Genzler on the ground.” She also admitted to police that Harless had engaged in other street fights.
After meeting with Longanbach and his investigator, Jeffrey O’Brien, however, Flanders changed her story. She said she “remembered little of the actual fight.” She also failed to repeat her earlier statement that Harless had a history of fighting both on and off the wrestling mat.
Alternate facts. She also stated that she thought Davis had pulled Genzler off Harless after the stabbing — when, in fact, Genzler was still beneath Harless.
The amount of the settlement, reached in 2006, wasn’t disclosed.
A bit more consolation for Genzler: Longanbach’s law license was suspended for two years.
The Forensic Files episode mentioned Genzler himself was considering a career as a lawyer. I did a little poking around to find out whether that happened or to at least discover some kind of epilogue for him.
There wasn’t any confirmation on whether or not he went to law school, but he did complete his finance degree by 2006.
No information came up about him for the last decade or so. I didn’t look very hard because he probably prefers to not be found.
Sky Flanders appears to be alive and well. She was never prosecuted for perjury relating to the legal actions against Genzler.
Flanders has stated that she prefers not to talk about the tragedy.
Car accident. After the trial, Dusty’s mother, Cathy Harless, who appeared in “Pinned by the Evidence,” moved to Butte, Montana, and then to San Diego.
She worked as a caretaker for ranch owners’ properties and also had two dogs and two horses of her own.
Her relationship with Sky Flanders ultimately turned sour. A 2006 story in the San Diego Union-Tribune contained the following quote from Cathy Harless:
“I consider [Flanders] really part of the problem, and I think she should be so ashamed for ruining Pete Longanbach’s life and career,” she said. “It turned from a trial about murder into a trial about lawyer misconduct.”
Sadly, Cathy Harless died at age 63 when a drunk driver hit her pickup truck in Alpine, California, in 2010. Two daughters survived her.
That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. — RR