Holy Cabooses, Cornelius!
Danny's Death: A Travesty of Justice
On Sunday, August 21, 1977, Danny's mother drove him to a taping of The Gong Show, a popular TV show which featured assorted talent competitions. Some competitors were seriously talented, and some of them silly or bizarre. Danny and Billie Jo Conway, another of Jean Lockin's dance instructors, had been invited to compete on the show. They did well-- Danny and Billie Jo tied for first place. After the show, Danny told his mother to go on home without him- that he would catch a ride home with Billie Jo. On the way home, Danny and Billie Jo decided to stop at a Garden Grove bar for a drink to celebrate their victory. Danny was later seen leaving the bar with Charles Leslie Hopkins, 34, who was described as a slight, bearded, former medical clerk.
Later that night, police were called by Hopkins to his Westminster apartment to report that a man had robbed him. When they arrived at his apartment, they discovered Danny's bloody body- stabbed almost 100 times.
Police arrested Hopkins and charged him with Danny's murder. At the time of the arrest, police discovered a loose leaf notebook which had pictures of sexual tortures in it. They also confiscated several "instruments" that they believed were used to stab Danny. The coroners report stated that Danny had bled to death-only six of the stab wounds had been fatal. It also stated that Danny had even been stabbed repeatedly after he had died.
Danny's body was unidentified until Wednesday, August 24th, when his mother was notified of his murder.
On August 27, prosecutors charged Hopkins with first degree murder by torture, and he was held on $200,000.00 bail in Orange County jail. If found guilty , Hopkins could have received the death penalty. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept 12th in Municipal Court, at which time a trial date of January 9, 1978 was set. Prosecutors felt that they could show that the torture/sex book had been used by Hopkins as a "script" for Danny's alleged "murder-by-torture"and served to motivate the attack.
Unfortunately, the trial was delayed because of a leg injury suffered in an automobile accident by Deputy Public Defender Walter Zech. During the delay, a decision was made by the US Supreme Court limiting the seizure of evidence at a crime scene without obtaining a search warrant. Police had failed to obtain permission to search the apartment and take items from it, because they believed that since they were already responding to a call to investigate a death, it wasn't necessary.
Judge Robert P. Kneeland ruled on July 30th, 1978, that in light of the Supreme Court ruling, the book would not be admissible as evidence. Without the book to use to prove premeditation, there was a question of whether the prosecutors would focus on first degree murder or a lesser charge.
On September 28, 1978, Hopkins had a trial without a jury before Judge Kneeland. He testified that Danny had been at his apartment, but had left. He said he woke up later to find Danny's mutilated body in his apartment, but did not know how the body got there. Prosecutor Bryan Brown tried unsuccessfully to get a murder conviction in the case. Hopkins was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and sentenced to only four years in state prison. The lack of admissibility of the book played a key role in the manslaughter conviction. Judge Kneeland increased the sentence one year from the usual three years, after taking the torture book into consideration. Hopkins would receive credit for the year he had already served in jail, and could be out in as little as two years with good behavior.
Charles Hopkins died in 2006. The official cause of death was a heart attack, but he also suffered from lung cancer.
Danny was only 34 years old when he was so brutally and senselessly murdered. The man who was charged with the crime escaped the first degree murder sentence- only because of a US Supreme Court decision which occurred during a delay in the trial.
Danny had been teaching dance, writing a play, and recorded an album prior to his murder. He had so much more he could have done. His great talent and gentle nature will be missed by so many.
He was buried in Westminster Memorial Park cemetery, in Orange county. For those who are in the area, and wish to pay their respects, Danny's grave is in Block 29, section 219, grave 4. He lies under under a simple stone that reads :
Daniel J. Lockin