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Lawyer Testifes in His Murder Trial re 1989 Slaying of Girlfriend’s Daughter, Says He Didn’t Do It

Posted Dec 19, 2012 12:48 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A 78-year-old California lawyer took the stand in his own murder trial on Monday and insisted that he didn't kill his then-girlfriend's adult daughter in Spring Valley Lake in 1989.

Authorities suspected Eric Francis Fagan from the start, but didn't have enough evidence to charge him with shooting Cathy Paternoster to death until the case was reopened in 2008, after DNA testing matched a latex glove found in 1989 two blocks from the slaying scene to the defendant, reports the Daily Press.

His alleged motive was to help his then-girlfriend gain custody of three daughters of the 32-year-old murder victim. A custody battle was ongoing at the time, according to an earlier San Diego Union-Tribune article.

Testifying in his own defense, Fagan said he'd purchased latex gloves years before the crime, using them once to change oil, the Daily Press reports. He blamed what he claimed was tampering by a San Bernadino County sheriff's detective for DNA and gun residue found on the glove used in evidence.

Witnesses said the assailant wore a beard and investigators were told by Fagan's son that his father purchased a beard at a costume store, the newspaper recounts. However, Fagan testified that he didn't remember buying a beard at the store, only a fake mustache to wear at work as a joke.

When his murder trial began last month in Victorville Superior Court, the Daily Press reported at the time, defense attorney Richard D. Berkon Jr. told the jury that the wrong man was being tried, arguing that Cathy Paternoster was slain because she was involved in drug activities.

Within less than a week, however, Fagan had fired Berkon and was representing himself pro se, another Daily Press article reported. The judge held a closed hearing to determine why Fagan was unhappy with the private practitioner, to prevent privileged trial strategy information from potentially being leaked to the prosecution through news accounts or members of the media.

The judge said afterward that the two had a difference of opinion. Berkon said, "I’m disappointed. I wanted to try this case. I put a lot of time and effort into this case."

Fagan is a civil practitioner but he said he had tried a criminal case, for alleged child molestation. He graduated in 1979 from Irvine University College of Law according to an Internet profile.

If convicted, he faces a potential sentence of 75 years to life. In addition to Paternoster's murder, he was also charged with attempted murder concerning the shooting of Paternoster's boyfriend, who survived the 1989 attack.

Fagan is not currently eligible to practice law, according to a State Bar of California website, because he is not in compliance with continuing legal education requirements and didn't pay recent bar membership fees.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Lawyer Who Wrote Soulmate Book Is Arrested in 1989 Slaying"

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