by Jack Lakeman, DP Editor-in-Chief
Monday, February 24th, 2014,
(SAN DIEGO) —The Hail Mary pass that was Harold Zelnias’ defense of “it was the 70s” proved compelling enough for a jury to acquit the accused serial killer Thursday of murdering college students in the mid-1970s.
Zelnias, a long–time suspect in the infamous “Hill Slope Murders” that rocked San Diego’s suburbs in the mid and late 1970s was finally linked to them via new DNA evidence this year. At least 14 known female victims of the now 61-year-old truck driver were attacked and bludgeoned on suburban roadsides and vacant parking lots from 1973 through '78.
However what shocked all involved in the case was when Zelnias announced a plea of “not guilty by reason of the 70s.”
“My client never denied being the killer,” said Zelnias’ attorney, Martin Bloom, after the jury’s acquittal Thursday. “The only thing Mr. Zelnias wanted people to remember was that he killed these women in the 70s, and we all know how the 70s were —all kinds of crazy shit went on then!”
It took the jury only three hours to render the “not guilty by reason of the 70s” verdict after hearing the defense’s case, which lasted only five minutes and called only two witnesses —famous American historian and bestselling author Doris Kearns Goodwin and just some random guy off the street who was 50 years old.
The defense’s most pivotal and only moment was a one-minute exchange between Goodwin and defense attorney Bloom:
BLOOM to GOODWIN: “Ms. Goodwin, no one knows American history better than you. Would you say that the 1970s were a bizarre decade in U.S. history?”
GOODWIN: “Yes, indeed, they were. You have the counterculture of the 1960s becoming an established norm of everyday life. You have America still reeling from all the high-profile assassinations of the 1960s, you have the drug culture and demoralizing political scandals, a certain randomness in the wake of a decade that was so wrought with drama and meaning…”
BLOOM: “Excuse me, Ms. Goodwin, but from what you’re saying, were not the 1970s then just a weird, crazy time, full of weird, crazy shit?”
GOODWIN: “Uhh, ‘shit’?”
BLOOM: “Yes, ma’am. Is it not fair to say that the 1970s were a time of just crazy shit?”
GOODWIN (visibly confused): “Ehh, I…I guess… I mean if…”
BLOOM: “There’s no ‘guessing’ about it, Ms. Goodwin! (addressing judge) Your honor, the witness is requested to answer the question with either a yes or a no.”
JUDGE: “Just a simple yes or no, Ms. Goodwin: did a lot of crazy shit happen in the 70s or not?”
BLOOM: “You’re honor, the Defense rests!”
Only half of the families of Zelnias’ college-age victims even attended the trial, the other half content with Zelnias’ defense, understanding that “hey, it was the 70s” to the point of not caring to appear. Said Gary Epps, whose daughter was abducted and strangled by Zelnias in 1976, “I didn’t go to the trial because I know where (Zelnias) is coming from. A hell of a lot of crazy shit was going on in the 70s that simply can’t be understood today. I personally remember staring at a lava light for two weeks with a monkey on my head.”
And jurors agreed. Debbie Greenway, a juror in the trial said that she may not remember too much of the 70s due to her age (36), but she is well aware very bizarre and sometimes horrific things occurred in them for no particular reason.
Said Greenway after Thursday’s verdict, “Kidnapping, strangling and bludgeoning young college students is certainly not something we encourage in this day and age. But I have older brothers and parents who say shit was just all fucked up back then! What else could you expect from a decade that followed the 60s?”
Judge Yoshi Miaka said this was a strange defense indeed, but certainly one that people of a certain age could relate to. “Mr. Zelnias is certainly a stone-cold, psychopathic killer,” Miaka said after the trial, “but you have to remember the times back then…. Why, when I was in law school in 1975, for example, I remember being sodomized by someone in a giant Gumby suit while a giraffe ate my sneakers. Those were the days.”
Miaka added that Zelnias’ defense, while offensive, bold, daring and ridiculous was no more outrageous and nonsensical than the decade itself.
“The 70s were the dark and sleazy underbelly of the 60s. We must remember that,” said reporter Brian Altman of FOX News' special Dead Pretty Young Blond division, who has covered the Zelnias case ever since DNA evidence led to his arrest. “The liberal revolutions of the 60s could lead to what else, a decade of tranquility, unity or purpose? You must be kidding! And this is where the Hill Slope murders fit in.”
Continued Altman outside the stunned and crowded courthouse, “You had a decade that made it not only official, but celebrated Americans being self-indulgent, senseless, and random. So, yeah, serial killing…? Why the hell not?! It was the 70s. Shit was just crazy then.”