VALENTINE'S DAY 1987 hadn't been overly romantic for Roberta and David Korzep, but they seemed to be having a decent enough time.

The Yuma couple liked to play the dogs, and they decided to make a night of it at the local greyhound park. They went to the track early and dined on halibut as they pored over their racing forms.

When the last race was over, the Korzeps had broken even-a good night. They weren't in any rush to get home, as Roberta's 15-year-old son was away on a weekend camping trip. Anyway, they had hit it off at the track with a snowbird couple. The foursome adjourned to the popular Stardust Lounge for more drinks and conversation.

Gregarious and fun-loving, Roberta had the knack of loosening up those around her with rapid-fire banter. Her husband's personality was as different from hers as could be.

Courteous but reserved, almost introverted at times, David Korzep usually kept to himself in social settings. Even when he had too much to drink-which was often-David was no talker. He shined at games such as Trivial Pursuit, in which he could show what he knew without being the center of attention.

David had become one of the city of Yuma's top administrators after his retirement from the U.S. Air Force as a full colonel. At 55, he had a paunch and his hair was gray and thinning. But he still carried himself with the same athletic bearing as when he had quarterbacked the Naval Academy to victory in the 1955 Sugar Bowl.

Fifteen years younger than David, Roberta also was athletic-golf was her passion, and she played a mean game of racquetball. She worked in an office at the Yuma Proving Grounds.

This was the second marriage for both, and they were nearing their fourth wedding anniversary. Valentine's Day 1987 also marked another, unhappier milepost: It was the anniversary of David's divorce from first wife, Carol, with whom he had spent 26 years and raised a family. But if his past was on David's mind on February 14, 1987, he didn't show it at the dog track and, later, at the Stardust.

By the time they closed down the bar at 1 a.m., the Korzeps had polished off a good amount of liquor: David's blood-alcohol level would be tested at more than twice the legal driving limit, Roberta's at just under the limit. They said goodbye to their new snowbird friends and made plans to golf with them the next day.

The Korzeps then returned to their rented house in this sprawling desert city of 45,000 on the Arizona-California line. We have only Roberta's account of what happened next.

We know David Korzep died on the floor in his home, the victim of a single stab wound from a kitchen knife. We know Roberta Korzep was her husband's killer. We know David had physically abused Roberta in the past and had slapped her just before she stabbed him. We know Roberta claimed self-defense.

And we know a trial jury didn't buy it.
In May 1988, it convicted Roberta Korzep of manslaughter, which called for a minimum sentence of five years in prison. But even now, five years and 12 days after Roberta stabbed David to death, she has yet to serve a day behind bars. That's because of an Arizona law that prosecutors say allows people to kill first and ask questions later. It's been dubbed the "Make My Day" law.

Enacted in 1977, with additions in 1983 and 1991, the little-publicized "crime-prevention" law gives Arizonans a far wider berth to kill than the traditional laws of self-defense. Under the law, a person is presumed to have acted "reasonably" if he or she kills to prevent or halt several specified crimes-aggravated assault in Roberta Korzep's case.

"It is a Wild West law," says Yuma County chief criminal deputy Phil Hall, who has prosecuted Roberta Korzep. "It's something Dirty Harry would love to have backing him up. It's going to create utter confusion with juries."
The law gives new meaning to the old saw, "It's better to be tried by 12 than carried by six." You no longer have to be staring death in the face to legally blow someone away. You no longer have to be frightened. You no longer have to be facing physical danger at all.

The law is far more liberal than Arizona's self-defense statutes, which allow a person to use deadly force only in instances of absolute necessity. Many familiar with the Korzep case agree the law is a minefield for prosecutors in self-defense homicides.

"The legislature was looking at it as a law for crusaders," says Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Rudy Gerber. "The original intent of the crime-prevention law was to permit very limited use of force to prevent just a few crimes, not the laundry list they have now. As it's written now, it would let almost anyone off the hook-carte blanche killing."
Gerber was the author last December of a key appellate ruling in the Korzep case.

Arizona is one of the few states to have such a sweeping crime-justification law. No one knows for sure how many defendants have walked in Arizona because of the law, in part because the acquitted leave no appellate trail. But several prosecutors tell New Times they have seen grand juries decline to indict someone after having read the law.

"It opens up a window of setups-such as get him in the house and blow him away under the guise of stopping a crime," says Pat Elliston, Cochise County's chief criminal prosecutor. "It's not just the homeowner-shooting-the-burglar deal as some people think of it. It's a series of Make My Day situations."
But Roberta Korzep didn't fancy herself a female Dirty Harry. She says she did what she did to keep from being beaten or killed by her drunken and enraged husband.

After Roberta was found guilty, Judge Douglas Keddie did not immediately order her to prison, saying her conviction had a chance of being overturned on appeal.

It was. Appellate court rulings returned the case to a Yuma County grand jury for a fresh look. The higher courts said Judge Keddie erred by not instructing the jury about the Make My Day law.

The foreman of her trial jury says there's an excellent chance Roberta would have been acquitted had the judge read the law to the jury.

"I could see us coming back with a `not guilty,'" says Jim Hall, a hospital administrator in Yuma. "It really would have helped us to have that law in front of us. It definitely would have influenced me."

UNLIKE ERNESTO MIRANDA, whose many clashes with cops made him an ideal candidate for a historic case, Roberta Korzep's only brush with the law came on Valentine's Day in 1987.

She was born in Roswell, New Mexico, the second of three daughters of an Air Force lifer and a homemaker. A good student, Roberta was one semester from a college degree when she married Bill Junk at the age of 22. They had one child together, then were divorced after almost seven years.

David Korzep made the military his career after he was graduated from the Naval Academy. He transferred to the Air Force and worked his way up the ranks, earning full-colonel stripes after a tour in Vietnam.

Roberta and David met in 1978 at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, where he was the civil engineer and she was a secretary. David's first marriage was falling apart, and in the early 1980s he separated and moved next door to Roberta. The two soon started to date.

Roberta and David seemed suited for each other, despite their 15-year age difference: Roberta had spent most of her life around military people, and David got a charge out of her spunky personality.

After about a year, they decided to marry when David's divorce was final. Eleven days after his Valentine's Day divorce in 1983, Roberta and David tied the knot.

David had retired from the Air Force and was trying to figure out what to do with himself. He drank more and more after he married Roberta, and his mood swings troubled her. "It got so we walked on eggshells," she told a grand jury. "I never knew what I was saying that would make David mad."

An example of David's mercurial nature came after France wouldn't allow U.S. airplanes to fly overhead on their mission to bomb Libya. Upon hearing that, Roberta's son Riley noted, "We don't have friends over there anymore."

That observation apparently sent David through the roof, Roberta recalled. He screamed at mother and son for minutes, then withdrew completely into himself, not saying a word to either of them for days.

But David completely lost his cool one night in November 1983. Roberta later said a drunken David hit her in the head as she was sleeping in bed. She escaped and hid in a closet as David marched stark naked into young Riley's room, demanding her whereabouts. When he found Roberta, he hit her several times as she cowered on the floor.

In the morning, David begged for forgiveness. Roberta said it was over unless he quit drinking and sought professional help. The couple soon met with Dr. Brian Smith of Ogden. "She wanted the marriage to work," Dr. Smith recalled at Roberta's trial, "and she hadn't given up hope it would."

Meeting alone with the doctor, David admitted he had frightened Roberta. He said he was depressed because of his divorce from his first wife, Carol, his recent retirement from the Air Force and his future prospects.

David stopped going to Dr. Smith after a few meetings, but he quit drinking for more than a year and things did improve at home.

The city of Yuma hired David in March 1985 as its civil engineer. He moved to Arizona about a month before Roberta. By the time she arrived, David was drinking again.

In June 1986, he snapped during a reunion in San Bernardino, California, with old military pals. Roberta claimed David had thrown her on a motel-room bed by her hair and choked her. She told a grand jury he screamed at her, "You bitch, don't ever question a decision that I've made."

A juror asked her how she'd escaped her husband's grasp. Roberta said she had kicked her husband in the groin. "He really intended to kill me," she said.

In December 1986, a few months before the fatal stabbing, David and Roberta went to another reunion in Southern California, this of David's Naval Academy buddies.

A videotape made at the reunion-which was held on the weekend of the Army-Navy football game-demonstrates how the Korzeps behaved in social situations: Her inhibitions loosened by liquor, Roberta was the life of the party, carrying on as if she'd known the gang forever, when actually she'd just met them. David remained mostly in the background, sipping his drinks and watching his wife interact easily with his old pals.

When they got back to Yuma, Roberta recalled, David knocked her around the bedroom and choked her again, this time for allegedly embarrassing him in front of his friends.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin