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June 27, 1997

Author: HENRY FITZGERALD JR. Staff Writer

William Lee Strausser Jr. on Thursday came to court a condemned man. He left with his life.   Strausser, who was sentenced to die in Florida’s electric chair in 1994, had his sentence reduced to life in prison by Broward Circuit Judge Paul Backman, the same judge who sentenced him to die.

“This is very good for him, but it’s not over,” said Strausser’s wife, Margaret. “Justice has not been served yet.”   Strausser is the lesser-known co-defendant in the bizarre murder of Allen Trubilla, 40, a divorced convenience store clerk and Strausser’s former lover.

Trubilla’s son, Elec Trubilla, who was 14 at the time of the 1992 murder , told police he conspired with Strausser, then ambushed his father with a cast-iron skillet in the elder Trubilla’s Deerfield Beach apartment. As Elec Trubilla pounded his father on the head with the skillet, Strausser stabbed Allen Trubilla 45 times with a butcher knife.   Strausser was convicted of first-degree murder and Backman, citing the brutality of the murder , sentenced Strausser to death despite a jury recommendation of life in prison.

Elec Trubilla also was convicted of murder but was too young to be considered for the death penalty. He has since been released from prison.  However, the state Supreme Court in October overturned Strausser’s sentence, saying he suffered from depression, had an abusive childhood, had twice attempted suicide and suffered from a depressive-type bipolar disorder with manic episodes. He took the antidepressant Prozac but had stopped taking it before the murder.

Evan Baron, who represented Strausser at the trial, said the Supreme Court rarely upholds judges who override jury recommendations.  “The judges felt he should have been sentenced according to the conscience of the community,” Baron said. “The burden of proof when overriding a jury recommendation is very, very high.”

Assistant State Attorney Tony Loe said Backman made the right decision in 1994.  “It’s always been the state’s position that the lower court ruling was correct,” said Loe, standing in for chief homicide prosecutor Chuck Morton, who helped convict Strausser.

Margaret Strausser said her husband should also be granted a new trial because his mental illnesses include a multiple-personality disorder the doctors failed to recognize before the trial. “He wasn’t himself when this murder happened,” Margaret Strausser said. “He has several disorders, and there are tests to prove it.”

The case gained national attention in 1993 when the CBS TV show 48 Hours portrayed Elec Trubilla as a troubled boy from a dysfunctional family who was manipulated by adults.  After a nationwide outpouring of support, Gov. Lawton Chiles in December 1994 granted Elec Trubilla clemency, which made him immediately eligible for parole. Eighteen months later, Elec Trubilla, now 18, was granted parole in a 4-0 vote by the state Parole Commission. After his release, he was taken in by a Melbourne couple, who had lobbied more than three years on his behalf.

Record Number: 9706260543
Copyright 1997 Sun-Sentinel Company