LAWYERS, GUNS AND PUBLICITY

THE COUNTY ATTORNEY'S HARD-LINE POLICY ON GUN CASES HAS GOTTEN HIM GOOD PRESS. IT'S ALSO CLOGGED THE COURTS, COST A LOT OF MONEY AND NEEDLESSLY IMPRISONED FIRST OFFENDERS.

Hentoff says that if Romley's office continues to refuse to prosecute the case, he will submit it to either the state attorney general or the U.S. Attorney's Office, which could assume jurisdiction, because the killing took place in a national forest.

"What we were doing," Lotstein says of the County Attorney's Office's formulation of the weapons policy, "was making a statement, admittedly a very strong statement, saying it is not appropriate to use deadly weapons to settle arguments on the street." This Perez-Mead confrontation would appear to be just the type of case Romley's policy is designed to prosecute--a case when someone used a gun as a bargaining tool in a conflict.

At the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, however, appearances can often be deceiving.

While Mead's parents wait to see whether Romley's office will charge Perez with a crime, Sherrie Crawford awaits a trial that may send her to prison. While the county Public Defender's Office shovels cases it lacks the resources to try out the back door at great taxpayer cost, David Studli watches his T-cell count, waiting for news from his public defender on the appeal of his criminal case.

The facts of the case are reasonably well-established. The question is whether those facts support a sentence that may keep Studli in prison until his death.

Studli says he was at his apartment with a couple of friends the night of November 1, 1993, when his ex-lover, Dustin Privett, came over. Privett, who did not return calls to New Times, testified in court that Studli invited him in and offered him a drink. Studli says Privett asked to speak to him in the bedroom.

Two weeks before, the two had put an end to their yearlong relationship after a vicious argument. The fight between the two men had been so violent, in fact, that the police and an ambulance were called. Studli was taken to the hospital, where doctors told him that the beating he received had permanently damaged his right eye. A few days later, he obtained a restraining order against Privett. The order's value was limited; the two were required to stay away from each other, but they lived next door to one another in the same apartment building. Privett's front porch was just a few steps from Studli's.

The night Studli was arrested, he and Privett went into the bedroom to talk but soon began to argue. Studli says Privett became physically abusive toward him, backing him up against a wall and threatening him. Privett denied these charges in court. Studli says he told Privett to leave.

Witnesses for Studli, who were present at the time of the altercation, testified that they entered the bedroom and moved Privett into the hall, asking him to leave the apartment before he upset Studli any further. They say Privett refused, saying he wanted everyone else to stay out of the dispute.

Studli says that by this time he was hysterical. Terrified that Privett would hit him, he says, he reached for the loaded .22-caliber revolver he kept with its cylinder open on a table next to his bed. He says he snapped shut the cylinder and walked quickly down the hall toward Privett, who had moved into the living room.

"I just lost control," Studli says. "I can't even remember what happened next."

Witnesses testified that Studli pointed the gun at Privett in the living room and ordered him to leave. Privett did so, turning and yelling, "Are you finished?" through the front door as he stepped outside. Privett testified that Studli followed him outside, pointing the gun directly at his head as he hurried back into his own apartment and shut his front door. A moment later, he heard a shot.

Witnesses testified that when the gun went off, it was pointing straight in the air. Police never recovered a bullet. Studli testified that he was so discomposed he didn't even realize he had pulled the trigger until he heard the bang. He dropped the gun on the grass and ran back inside. A friend who was present told him to go out and retrieve the gun; if the police came, the group could say they had been shooting off fireworks.

By the time Studli picked up the revolver and stashed it under a chair in his living room, however, three different 911 calls had been made from the scene. Phoenix police arrived almost immediately. Studli at first denied the presence of the gun, but quickly recanted. He was taken into custody and charged with Dangerous Aggravated Assault.

Thanks to Rick Romley's policy on weapons prosecution, Studli remains in custody. There, in prison, he has time to think. About his disease. His life. And an overreaction to a lover's quarrel.

"Sometimes, I wonder how I ended up here, and I still can't believe it," he says, his faraway voice growing even more distant as it trails off in thought. "Sometimes I can't believe it all actually happened.

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