Did Larry Hurwitz kill
Tim Moreau with his own hands, or is the former Starry Night
owner being framed for the murder by lying ex-friends and
employees, assisted by the Portland Police Bureau and the
Multnomah County District Attorney's Office?
That was the question
at the heart of an extraordinary hearing which took place
before Multnomah County District Court Judge Robert Redding
on May 8. In an attempt to get Hurwitz released on bail,
his attorneys, Daniel Feiner and Marc Sussman, presented
a surprise witness who challenged the state's claim that
Hurwitz killed Moreau with his own hands. Deputy District
Attorneys Norm Frink and Greg Horner attempted to undermine
the testimony, but they could not completely discredit it.
Hurwitz was present
at the hearing, guarded by two beefy Multnomah County Sheriff's
deputies. He sat next to his lawyers in a standard jail-issued
blue jumpsuit. The months of hard time have taken their
toll on Hurwitz. His skin is pale and his frizzy hair has
been cut short, exposing a bald spot on the top of his head.
His once-muscular forearms are now rail-thin. But his eyes
sparkled with interest as the hearing unfolded, and he chatted
with his attorneys repeatedly as the day progressed.
Hurwitz was charged
with five counts of aggravated murder on November 20, 1998.
He is accused of killing Moreau, his former publicity director,
on February 20, 1990. The District Attorney says the murder
took place to prevent Moreau from telling the police that
Hurwitz was running a counterfeit ticket scam at his former
Old Town nightclub. The only witness to the murder is former
Starry Night sound engineer George Castagnola.
According to police
and court documents, Castagnola says he helped Hurwitz plan
the murder and hide the body. But Castagnola swears that
Hurwitz personally strangled Moreau with a garrote made
from a broom handle and stereo speaker wire. As Castagnola
tells the story, Hurwitz arranged for Moreau to come to
Starry Night to talk about the counterfeit ticket controversy.
The two men were walking down the hall on the second floor
when Castagnola popped out of an office and distracted Moreau.
Hurwitz quickly stepped behind Moreau, slipped the garrote
around his neck and pulled it tight.
Moreau's face turned
red, his eyes bugged out and he made gurgling noises as
the two men fell over backwards and crashed to the floor.
Castagnola jumped on top of them and held Moreau's legs
together until he stopped struggling and passed out.
As Hurwitz continued strangling Moreau, Castagnola ran into
his office and returned with a roll of silver duct tape.
Hurwitz held Moreau's head up off the floor, not knowing
whether he was dead or alive. Castagnola wrapped Moreau's
head with the tape, making him look like a silver mummy
to be sure he suffocated. Hurwitz and Castagnola then loaded
Moreau's body into the trunk of a borrowed Cadillac, drove
up the Columbia Gorge and buried it in the mountains on
the Washington side of the river.
In return for his confession,
Castagnola received a 10-year sentence for aiding and abetting
the murder. As part of the plea-bargain deal, he agreed
to testify against Hurwitz when the case goes to trial in
September of this year. Hurwitz's attorneys tried and failed
to get their client out on bail once before. They moved
to reopen the bail hearing after meeting with two witnesses
who say Castagnola lied about Hurwitz's role in the murder.
These witnesses claim they heard Castagnola take full credit
for both the counterfeit ticket scam and the murder. If
this is true, he framed Hurwitz and pulled a fast one on
the District Attorney.
One of the witnesses
is Kevin Nettleship, a longtime Portland area drug abuser.
Nettleship took the stand on May 8 and told his remarkable
story in Judge Redding's courtroom. According to Nettleship,
he was in the Multnomah County Inverness Jail on August
12, 1999, the day Castagnola was formally sentenced to 10
years in jail for his part in the murder. After the sentencing
hearing, Castagnola was placed in the same holding cell
as Nettleship and a number of other inmates.
Nettleship says he was
simply sitting on his jail bunk when he heard someone say,
"I was involved in this ticket scam and this kid wouldn't
stop talking and I killed him." Nettleship turned around
to see who was making this bold claim. He recognized Castagnola
from the television coverage of his guilty plea.
Nettleship says he was
shocked by how casually Castagnola talked about the murder,
calmly explaining about how many pounds of pressure it takes
to break a human neck. Castagnola demonstrated how strong
he was, Nettleship says, by doing 40 or 50 inverted push-ups.
And, according to Nettleship, Castagnola bragged that he
had "pulled one over on the D.A." by negotiating
a 10-year sentence.
The D.A.'s Office did
not directly challenge Nettleship's testimony at the hearing.
Instead, Frink and Horner offered a reason why Castagnola
might have lied about his role in the killing. Castagnola
was supposed to be in protective custody when he was transferred
to Inverness Jail. Instead, he was mistakenly released into
the general prison population. By coincidence, Hurwitz was
also in Inverness at that time. Frink and Horner suggested
that Castagnola might have been afraid of retaliation, taking
credit for the killing to appear tough. Under questioning
from Frink, Nettleship admitted that prison inmates hate
Frink also pointed out
that Nettleship and Hurwitz are friends. The two men had
met at Inverness before Castagnola was transferred there.
Hurwitz told Nettleship he was innocent, and Nettleship
said he believed him. Within days of overhearing the conversation,
Nettleship wrote Hurwitz a letter offering to testify about
what Castagnola said. In the letter, Nettleship said he
would join the former club owner on the "Larry Hurwitz
Victory Tour" after he is acquitted.
Frink and Horner also
provided the court with a sworn statement from Castagnola
saying he had told the truth about the murder to the police.
The two Deputy D.A.'s insisted there was a lot of evidence
to support Castagnola's original story. Among other things,
Hurwitz talked about killing Moreau before their final meeting,
and he arranged for a part-time employee, Michael Wolbaum,
to stand guard outside Starry Night on the night Castagnola
says the murder took place. According to Frink, Wolbaum
saw Hurwitz and Castagnola drive away from Starry Night
that evening in a Cadillac.
In addition, an Oregon
State Police trooper stopped the two men in a Cadillac near
where Castagnola says the body was buried. The stop took
place the morning before Moreau was allegedly murdered.
Castagnola says they were pulled over during a trip to dig
the grave to hide Moreau's body.
But Castagnola is the
only eyewitness to the actual murder. So anything that might
discredit him helps the defense and hurts the state's case.
And Nettleship was a
strong witness. Despite his lengthy history of drug abuse,
he came across as intelligent, articulate and thoughtful.
Tall and thin, with short brown hair and wire rim glasses,
Nettleship oozed the intense sincerity of a young Jimmy
Stewart. Even Frink, a legendary bulldog, couldn't rattle
him. Although Nettleship's friendship with Hurwitz raises
obvious questions about his honesty, he came across well
during the May 8 hearing.
Nettleship says Castagnola
was talking to an inmate named Steve Larson, another longtime
drug abuser. Hurwitz's attorneys interviewed Larson before
the hearing, and they produced a report which says he confirms
Nettleship's story. But Larson didn't show up for the May
8 hearing. Although he had been subpoenaed to appear and
testify, he skipped the proceedings entirely.
Judge Redding issued
a warrant for Larson's arrest and continued the bail hearing
until May 24. Hurwitz's attorneys were confident he would
show up by then. So were the two district attorneys, who
noted that Larson has frequent run-ins with the law. But
Larson didn't show up on the 24th, either. He hadn't been
arrested, and he didn't call anyone to say where he was.
"We've checked his last known residence, and we have
no idea where he is," Horner told Redding when the
second hearing started.
Talking to Horner outside
the courtroom before the hearing began, Sussman said he
was afraid that Larson might turn up dead, the victim of
a drug overdose.
Because Hurwitz's attorneys
couldn't produce the second witness, they withdrew their
new bail motion. Redding promised to reschedule the hearing
if Larson showed up, but warned that he would be more reluctant
to consider granting bail as the trial approaches. "It's
one thing if you find him tomorrow," he said. "It's
another thing if it's two weeks before trial."
Hurwitz didn't seem
upset to be remaining in jail, however. That's because his
lawyers scored at least one minor triumph during the May
8 hearing. They had Nettleship testify about the conversation
he allegedly overheard under oath, meaning they can use
his statements to try to impeach Castagnola even if Nettleship
testimony is not much to base an entire defense case on,
it is the first point that his lawyers have scored so far,
and it suggests the legal maneuvering is far from over.