Man ordered to stand trial in Bakersfield murder

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 08 2003 12:00 AM ET

The man charged in the stabbing death of a Kern County, Calif., assistant district attorney has been ordered to stand trial. 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, a knife sticking out of his head, the weekend of September 13. Hillis has pleaded innocent. At a preliminary hearing held Monday and Tuesday, prosecutors laid out their case to Judge Robert D. Randall, who then ordered Hillis to stand trial. "We fully expected him to be held to answer," defense attorney Kyle Humphrey said Tuesday. "We have a prominent victim and very little standard of proof. Now we'll just let a jury sort it all out."

Hillis is the father of Lance Hillis, a 22-year old drug abuser who had lived with Tauzer on a number of occasions. Authorities say Tauzer, 57, had provided Lance with shelter, money, and legal help until Lance Hillis's death in a traffic accident on August 7.

At the hearing, witnesses testified that Tauzer and Chris Hillis disagreed about how to handle Lance's drug problems. Tauzer had urged drug treatment for Lance rather than a jail sentence, which Chris Hillis had said his son needed to kick his drug habit.

After Tauzer was found dead, The Bakersfield Californian ran a series of articles titled "Lords of Bakersfield," which provided details about an alleged local ring of closeted gay men who had had sex with underage boys and used their prominence in the community to keep from being prosecuted. Several of the men were slain between 1978 and 1984, and in many of the cases the young boys were charged with the killings. However, the paper was unable to determine whether Tauzer's slaying fit the pattern of the other deaths.

Tauzer's housekeeper, Ardemiza Duren, testified during the preliminary hearing that she saw no inappropriate behavior between Tauzer and Lance Hillis. "Mr. Tauzer was a very kind and generous man," Duren said.

On Monday, Chris Hillis's father, Donald Hillis, testified that his son had "joked" several years ago about killing Tauzer. Chris Hillis's ex-wife, Connie Marie Clagg, testified that he disagreed with the way Tauzer was handling Lance's drug problem. She also said her ex-husband was upset that Tauzer appeared to be trying to replace him as a father figure to Lance.

During Tuesday's hearing, crime scene specialists testified that DNA evidence found on a knife near Tauzer's body and on a beer bottle inside the home linked Chris Hillis to the crime scene. Humphrey claimed that police botched the evidence-gathering process and that the DNA found at the scene was too minimal to make a definitive link to his client. "Also, what we're talking about here is a situation where it's extremely odd that the DNA is found on a knife next to the body but not on the knife in the
victim's head," Humphrey said after the hearing. "And they say they found DNA on a beer bottle in the kitchen, yet if they're serious that Chris hated Mr. Tauzer enough to kill him, I certainly can't see the two of them sharing a beer," Humphrey added.

Humphrey said he will ask the judge at the May 14 arraignment to release Hillis on bail pending trial. Humphrey said he will also reiterate his client's innocent plea. "My feeling is that there's a whole lot of drama and just a little bit of evidence in this case," he said. "We will do everything we can to eliminate Chris as a suspect...but beyond that I have to count on the presumption of innocence."

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