Prosecutors lay out case in Bakersfield murder

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 07 2003 12:00 AM ET

Prosecutors laid out their case Monday against a man charged in the stabbing death of a Kern County, Calif., assistant district attorney. Chris Hillis is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Stephen Tauzer, who was found in his garage in a pool of blood with a knife sticking out of his head on the weekend of September 13. Hillis is the father of Lance Hillis, who had lived with Tauzer on a number of occasions. Authorities say Tauzer, 57, had provided Lance Hillis with shelter, money, and legal help until Lance's death in a traffic accident on August 7.

Tauzer and Chris Hillis had disagreed about how to handle Lance's drug problems. Tauzer had urged drug treatment for Lance rather than a jail sentence, which the senior Hillis had said his son needed to kick his drug habit. According to court records, Chris Hillis had threatened to kill Tauzer if anything happened to his 22-year-old son. Prosecutors said Hillis followed through on that promise five weeks after Lance was killed in a head-on crash after escaping a drug treatment center in a stolen car.

"There was some resentment between Christopher Hillis and Mr. Tauzer regarding Lance Hillis," testified Det. John Soliz, the lead investigator on the case with the Kern County sheriff's department.

Soon after the body was found, talk around town focused on the many favors Tauzer had extended to the troubled young man. Tauzer, a 57-year-old bachelor, had befriended the 22-year-old drug addict, giving him a car, letting him live in his home, finding him a job at the district attorney's office, and keeping him out of jail. When the prosecutor was found dead, the "Lords of Bakersfield" legend was
detailed in a series of stories published in The Bakersfield Californian. The paper found evidence of a ring of closeted gay men who had sex with teenage boys and used their influence to keep from being prosecuted. Four of the men were slain between 1978 and 1984, and in many of the cases the young men were charged with the killings. The paper was inconclusive, however, in determining whether Tauzer's slaying fit the pattern of the other deaths, although the series drew parallels between it and the Lords legend.

Edwin Buck, 55, a personal administrator for Kern County, was murdered in 1981 by a teenage boy he was having an affair with. Marshall Jacobsen, 49, a well-known lawyer, was killed in his garage in 1984 by two teenagers he was having sex with. Friends and family of Tauzer have said no such relationship existed between Tauzer and Lance Hillis and that the prosecutor simply wanted to help the troubled young man.

Soliz testified Monday that Tauzer's body was found lying facedown on a blue vinyl tarp in the man's garage. "The head was bloody, and there was a knife that was embedded on the left side of the head," Soliz said, adding that evidence was found indicating that the younger Hillis had been living with Tauzer for a period of time.

Chris Hillis and Tauzer were at one time friends and coworkers in the district attorney's office, where Hillis worked as an investigator for 11 years. The friendship fractured when the two chose different treatment options for the younger Hillis. Chris Hillis went back to school to become a drug counselor and opened a treatment center. When he realized his son was too deeply involved in drugs, he took a tough-love approach, advocating jail time. Tauzer urged leniency and treatment for Lance, not incarceration. Police say Chris Hillis became enraged after his son's death, feeling that Tauzer had usurped his role as father, and lashed out with deadly results.

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