The man charged in the stabbing death of a Kern County, Calif., assistant district attorney has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Chris Hillis was originally 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, 2002. Hillis had pleaded innocent to the charges. On Tuesday, Hillis accepted a deal from prosecutors and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He had been scheduled for a November 10 trial. "In a fit of rage, it happened," Hillis's attorney, Kyle Humphrey, said in an interview after the plea.
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, 2002. At a preliminary hearing in the case, witnesses testified that Tauzer and Chris Hillis had disagreed over how to handle Lance's drug problems. Tauzer had urged drug treatment for Lance rather than a jail sentence, which Chris Hillis maintained his son needed in order to kick his drug habit.
After Tauzer's death, the "Lords of Bakersfield" legend surfaced and 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 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 men were charged with the killings. The articles were inconclusive, however, in showing whether Tauzer's slaying fit the pattern of the earlier murders.
Crime scene investigators testified at the original hearing 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. In a statement, Kern County district attorney Ed Jagels said Tauzer's family also approved the plea deal.