Video: Wife murdered

updated 10/20/2005 6:50:23 PM ET 2005-10-20T22:50:23

Defense attorney Daniel Horowitz has seen his share of the criminal element in society but nothing could have prepared him for the tragic murder of his own wife.

Mr. Horowitz, a frequent contributor to The Abrams Report, spoke with Dan about what happened.  Dan was joined on his program by two close friends of Daniel's along with a reporter from the Contra Costa Times and a forensic examiner. 

ABRAMS:   A good friend of this program now finds himself helping police investigate his own wife‘s murder.  Regular viewers will recognize high-profile defense attorney, Daniel Horowitz, a man who has dedicated decades of his life serving the less fortunate. 

Saturday evening he returned home to find his wife, 52-year-old Pamela Vitale, dead inside their home.  Police calling it a homicide and a violent one.  Daniel was in the middle of a high-profile case defending Susan Polk, accused of murdering her husband.  A mistrial was declared in that case just hours about because of this.  Many still wondering if that case could have had anything to do with Daniel‘s wife‘s murder or if maybe Daniel‘s sometimes unpopular positions defending the accused as an analyst could be relevant. 

I spoke with Daniel earlier today and through the tears and the heartbreak, here‘s what he told me. 

First and foremost, he had a temporary restraining order against a neighbor that had not been served.  We‘re going to have more details of that in a minute.

And he believes the police are talking to that neighbor who had also been a caretaker at their home.  Daniels believes his wife “fought like hell”, as indicated by defensive wounds on her body.  He thinks the murder happened in the morning, sometime after he left for a breakfast meeting and that the killer knew that he had left. 

He‘s unsure if a knife was used in the attack.  He also does not think the killer took anything from the home but believes that he or they cleaned up the crime scene.  When police arrived, Daniel was put in a police car initially and was—quote—“treated like a suspect”, but he said that he expected that and that the police have been doing a fantastic job.  Daniel later helped them reconstruct the crime scene and that‘s why he believes that it occurred in the morning. 

Daniel also thinks that the Polk case probably had nothing to do with his wife‘s murder and contrary to reports out there, he says that there are not security cameras at his house.  Now “My Take”—let me say this at the onset.  Daniel Horowitz is not just a friend of the program.  I consider him a personal friend of mine.  We spent time together off the air in a social context.

Sure, we often disagree about the legal issues we cover, but on many occasions he‘s described this as the best legal show on television and I think part of that is the respect that we have for one another.  I say this to let all of you know I feel like I have a personal stake in this one.  I want to see this murder solved.  Period. 

Joining me now, Bruce Gerstman from the “Contra Costa Times” who‘s been following the story and reported an interesting scoop this morning.  And longtime friend of Daniel Horowitz, Steve Mendelson, as well as Stephen Clark and also we have a forensic examiner and professor from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Larry Kobilinsky. 

All right, before we start getting into the details of this restraining order, et cetera, Steve, let me ask you just about how Daniel‘s doing.

STEVE MENDELSON, DANIEL HOROWITZ‘S FRIEND & COLLEAGUE:  He‘s doing as well as can be expected.  He is grief stricken, but he‘s handling it.  Sometimes he can‘t but it‘s nothing that wouldn‘t be expected.  He is going into an analytic stance sometimes to try to figure out what happened and he‘s surrounded by his family and his wife‘s family and close friends and he has a lot of support now, so I‘m not worried about him.

ABRAMS:  Stephen Clark, they—he told me that they took away his guns, he was saying because you know there was a fear of what he might do.  He sort of said you know I would never do anything like that, but that‘s how much his wife meant to him. 

STEPHEN CLARK, DANIEL HOROWITZ‘S FRIEND & COLLEAGUE:  Yes.  They had a great relationship.  I had spent a lot of time with Dan recently on the Polk case.  He had bounced things off me.  We had shared ideas.  I watched him make a brilliant opening statement the other day.  His wife was present; she was helping him on the case.  They were soul mates really and this is such a horrific situation for Dan. 

My heart goes out to him and his family.  Not only he‘s just a great attorney, but he‘s a great friend.  He‘s someone who is always there to help people.  Even in the middle of all of this, Susan Polk case, he‘s doing a matter pro bono, I‘m sorry—and it‘s just the kind of person he is.  He works in a small store front office in Oakland and yet, he‘s handling all these high profile cases.  He‘s a very unique individual and my heart goes out to him and I just know this is just a horrible, horrible situation and I hope that he can get through this. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me read this.  This is a declaration in support of a restraining order from June 15, 2005.  And this is from Daniel Horowitz himself, referring to a neighbor and caretaker who had been at their home in the past. 

He has been violent in the past to the degree that he has attempted to kill himself.  He is constantly seeking confrontation and it seems that the more people refuse to engage in confrontation with him, the harder he tries, and the further he goes to create it.  Most important to me—and listen to this—is that he stay away from my wife Pamela.

That‘s from only months ago.  Steve Mendelson, I‘ve got to believe that and I know that you know that Daniel would want them to question this person and we‘re going to hear from a press conference in 25 minutes from now that they have talked to this person. 

MENDELSON:  Yes, they have.  Yes, they have.  He is a prime suspect. 

ABRAMS:  When you say prime suspect, what does that mean? 

MENDELSON:  Well it was after the first thought, of course, that I had was the Susan Polk matter when I heard the horrible news.  When you start dealing with it logically, he was the person around who was around, who had some kind of twisted motivation, who had access because he‘s just down the hill from them, so I would see him as a prime suspect. 

ABRAMS:  Stephen Clark, do you want add anything to that? 

CLARK:  Well clearly, this didn‘t appear to be a random-type situation.  The home that they lived in is off the beaten track.  It‘s not something that you would think that someone would drive by and then try to do a burglary, something like that.  Certainly with the high profile nature of the Polk case and with the “Dateline” story on Friday night and then this happening on Saturday, it did enter my mind that perhaps this was somehow related to that, perhaps a former patient, something along those lines.

That has not proven to be true.  There‘s also been a report that one of the Polk children who lived in the house is reporting a burglary or a screen missing from the house at around the same time, so initially, obviously that‘s one of the things that I suspected. 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s ask Bruce Gerstman about that from the “Contra Costa Times”.  He‘s the one who broke that story.

Bruce, what can you tell us about that and anything else that you‘ve turned up about the investigation?

BRUCE GERSTMAN, “CONTRA COSTA TIMES” (via phone):  Absolutely.  Yes, I spoke with Eli Polk, that‘s the middle son of Susan Polk who is taking her side during this whole trial and he told me that someone had tried to break into his home by taking off a sliding—like a sliding door on the outside.  He made reports to the police.  They took fingerprints.  At this point, you know there are no confirmed connections between anything about that.  But that he did arrive home Sunday morning to find that. 

ABRAMS:  Do you know anything more about this neighbor and caretaker? 

I mean look we know his name.  We‘re just trying...


ABRAMS:  ... to avoid saying it right at this point.  Do you know anything more about the investigation into that person? 

GERSTMAN:  Yes, and I wanted to add to that it—we‘ve been keeping in touch with sheriff‘s deputies and at this point, they have made it very clear that he is not yet a suspect.  He is someone they have spoken with out of various people.  There are no named suspects yet.  At 3:30, they may or may not discuss who those suspects, if there are any suspects...

ABRAMS:  Right.  My understanding is—because we spoke to the Contra Costa authorities about half an hour ago and they told us that they would not be naming any suspects or any arrests.  They would give us an update on the investigation.  I think they are going to specifically talk about their questioning of this person.

Let me read you some more from this restraining order, the declaration supportive of a restraining order.  Again, June 15, 2005, this is what Daniel Horowitz is saying in response to the question did the person engage in a course of conduct that harassed you and cause substantial and emotional distress.

Answer:  He‘s trying to create violence and conflict.  It‘s an aspect of his mental illness and drug addiction.  He has almost completely lost control and he refused to get treatment. 

He goes on.  He‘s a good person at his core, but he is seriously mentally ill.  He is presently using meth and drinking heavily and during these periods he is delusional, threatening, violent, and dangerous.

Larry Kobilinsky, I mean look, I‘m intentionally not naming this person because I don‘t want—police haven‘t named him as a suspect but that allows me to ask you this question.  Don‘t they automatically have to go talk to someone like this where there‘s been a restraining order application filed and I understand that it wasn‘t actually delivered upon him but they were able to get a temporary restraining order.  That‘s important. 

LARRY KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC EXAMINER:  There‘s no question we have a person of interest here, but it‘s very important at this stage to keep an open mind because the worst thing that can happen is we develop a hypothesis and we don‘t collect all the evidence that might lead us down another path.  We have a crime scene.  We have a body.  We know the crime scene has been cleaned up.  We have an autopsy report.  Definitely homicide was the manner of death, the cause of death still unknown.  Did she know her assailant?  How did he get access to the home?  Could this have been a burglary that went bad or was this a targeted assassination?  We don‘t know.

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to tell you this house is in the middle of nowhere.  I mean you know Stephen Clark, I don‘t mean to suggest anything by saying that, but it‘s not the kind of place you pass by on the highway, right? 

CLARK:  Right.  It‘s very remote.  It‘s in a hilly area.  It‘s sort of a mountainous-type of terrain.  I just—it‘s just to get there have you to go on a dirt road.  It‘s not the kind of place that the average person would just drive by and then look inside and decide to do a burglary.  It just—that just doesn‘t add up and I think the police are dismissing that. 

Clearly, there are people up in that area that are somewhat transient.  There are you know those kinds of problems up there, but you know, the nature of the killing and that type of thing points to someone who would have known the Horowitzes and would have gone to the home for that particular purpose.  You would think that the police would find some forensic evidence based on the information that we‘re hearing about the crime scene relative to the caretaker, although at this point, no one has spoken about that. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I know that many people close to Daniel want the authorities to look at this person and I know that they have questioned him, so we shall see.

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.


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