6 The Star / March 23,1984
Marine Gets Four Years for Mutilating Gay Man
By S. Christopher Hagin
VISTA, CALIF.-A 20-year-old Georgia
Marine was sentenced to just four years in
prison for voluntary manslaughter on
February 10 in the bludgeoning death of a
local gay construction executive, in what
the prosecutor called "one ofthe bloodiest,
most gruesome murders ever in San Diego
On April 3. 1983, Cpl. Dennis Craig
Edenfield went to an Oceanside motel
with David G. Smith, 55, subsequent to
their meeting in a tavern frequented by
Camp Pendleton Marines. After twice
leaving and returning to the room, the
Marine—in a fury—battered Smith to
death with a table.
San Diego County Deputy District
Attorney Susan Biery claimed the brown-
haired Georgian committed the slaying
after engaging in "a consensual homosexual act" with his victim; however, Edenfield has given several accounts for his
At his trial, he claimed being frightened
into self-protection when he awoke from a
drunken stupor to find Smith naked and
straddling his shirtless body.
After Oceanside police traced Edenfield
to being in the room, the Marine baker
asked homicide detectives, "Is this in
regards to that faggot? Because if it is, I
can save you a lot of time because I did it."
The Marine corporal admitted, "I hit
him. I hit him hard. I hit him with my
hands. I hit him with my elbows. I hit him
with the table. I hit him good."
Biery alleges the Jesup, Ga., native
knew his victim was gay before they went
to the Mira Mar Motel. Edenfield claims
Smith "promised" women would be in the
After recurrently bashing Smith with
the table, Edenfield washed the bludgeoned man's blood from his hands and
slender torso and left the gore-drenched
7 told him that in
the State of
pretty strict on
beating up queers.
room, believing his prey still alive; however, he did not seek medical treatment for
the gay man after delivering him a
It is doubtful Smith was alive. Police
photographs depict the personnel manager's head to be almost unrecognizable as
that of a human being. Edenfield's death
weapon caved-in the middle-aged gay
man's skull and pulverized his nose. His
face was twisted off center and disfigured.
His eyes exploded. Blood covered three
walls, the ceiling, bedding and carpet.
Detective Richard Trotter testified he
had never seen a body that badly beaten.
Edenfield returned to Camp Pendleton
where he told his mess hall supervisor
Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Fredrickson "he
was going to get in trouble for beating up a
queer." Frederickson said, "I told him that
in the State of California, they're pretty
strict on beating up queers."
Edenfield told his boss he went to the
motel room because Smith was drunk and
he "was afraid he (Smith) might get hurt."
The handsome corporal admitted assaulting the gay executive after returning from
the bathroom to find the balding homosexual standing naked near a bed, said Fredrickson.
In defending Edenfield, his two attorneys claimed "self-defense" and "justifiable and excusable homicide." Their claims
partly succeeded with the jury. Originally,
jurors found the defendant guilty of
second degree murder, but their foreman,
a retired Marine major, emerged to tell
Superior Court Judge Donald Martinson
they had reached a verdict, but one or two
of the jurors wanted to change their finding. Martinson said a verdict was not final
until read in court. The voluntary manslaughter conviction came out ofthe second
balloting of jurors.
Biery has said their verdict would not
have been changed if the victim was heterosexual.
Edenfield has never expressed regret or
sorrow for the murder.
Before jury deliberations began, Biery
said, "You are not here to take a vote on
how many of you like Marines and how
many like homosexuals. If you tell this
man it was okay to kill Dave Smith
because Dave Smith was a homosexual,
you might as well sign a death warrant for
all other minorities."
William Dougherty, Edenfield's Orange
County attorney, told the jury, "We know
what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.
That wasn't pretty either."
The lawyer further claimed Edenfield
had the right to defend himself from "an
attempt to commit a forcible and atrocious
crime. The table was the only weapon to
keep this man off of him.''
Martinson disagreed in passing sentence. The judge said the murder was "a
very brutal and senseless killing" which
indicated "a high degree of cruelty and
viciousness." He further found, "This matter could have ended easily by simply having the defendant withdraw."
Martinson could have sentenced Edenfield to six years in prison.
Martinson received a letter from the sheriff in Edenfield's hometown. Sheriff Jim
Poindexter wrote, "If there is any way possible, I would like to help this young
man... If by any chance that it could be
worked out, and he (Edenfield) is sentenced to serve jail time, I would take the
responsibility of keeping him in my jail to
serve his time... We have facilities that
I'm right proud of for a small town."
The judge received the backwoods sheriffs request. He also rejected probation
for the convicted manslayer which was
requested by his San Diego attorney Dan
Mogin. Mogin claimed if released on probation, his client could seek treatment for
alcoholism, a bleeding ulcer and suicidal
tendencies which developed after the
Martinson received 56 letters from
friends and family of Edenfield in Georgia. The Atlanta Gay Task Force (AGTF)
also sent a letter asking for the maximum
sentence, and San Diego gay organizations were present in court.
Citizens of Jesup rallied to the defense of
their hometown high school baseball hero.
A car was raffled to pay legal fees and bail.
Jesup churches passed the offering plate
for the young Marine and his family.
"Blatant homophobic hatred ran rampant
in Jesup for over a year. If an open gay
man would have gone to that town, he
would have been clubbed to death," said a
gay former resident now living in Atlanta.
Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Lindsay Thomas wrote Martinson, "Dennis'
hometown is Jesup, a small south Georgia
community, rural and stable in its population and one in which there is no known
homosexuality which is considered abhorrent and offensive... "The entire community has felt a shockwave of anger
and concern over the legal troubles of
Dennis... There is a sense of disappointment at the verdict in this case," said
Thomas, a member of the House Armed
Services Committee, wrote a constituent,
"I have been working with the Marines to
see that Dennis and his family are receiving any support that the Marines can
offer." It has been charged by a person
close to the case that Thomas has "leaned
on Marine officials" to assure Edenfield
"of preferential treatment."
It is "extremely rare" for the Marine
Corps to become involved in a civil criminal case, said the prosecutor's office, but
they helped seek bail reduction for the
Biery sad after the Marine was released
on bail, he was arrested for shoplifting
from a PX, drunk driving and assaulting a
superior officer at Camp Pendleton, but
the Marine Corps has not brought charges
A spokesperson for Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley would not discuss or comment on the case. Edenfield's future with
the Corps is unknown.
U.S. Reps. Sala Burton (D-Ga.), Gerry
Studds (D-Mass.) and several other congresspersons are investigating the possibility Edenfield received special treatment
and to encourage the Marine Corps to
courtmartial the convicted gay murderer
for violations of military justice after
release from state prison.
AGTF wrote Martinson, "Edenfield was
raised in Jesup. Ga., a town known for its
homophobic and bigoted attitudes. The
residents there provided the funds for
Edenfield's defense, not because of his
standing in the community, but, according to a deputy sheriff, to tell 'them California fruits it's okay to kill them damn
queers.' The people of Jesup might consider it alright to kill gay people, but that
is perverted justice. Do not let San Diego
County's justice become morally polluted
like red-neck Jesup's. Racism, bigotry and
homophobia is bred into Jesup children. A
majority of Georgians condemn the act of
AGTF wrote, "Some persons are raised
to believe 'fag-bashing' is permitted. It
simply is not, and as a judge you must
deliver that message. We have the right to
expect our violators to be prosecuted to the
full extent of the law."
The Atlanta group encourages people to
write the Commanding General, Camp
Pendleton, Ca., 92055, to insist the gay
slayer be prosecuted on violations of military justice after being released from
state prison and/or give him a dishonorable discharge.
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