Victim: Micheal Stephenson
Killers: David Kurtzman, 17, & James Tramel, 17
Crime date: August 4, 1985
Crime location: Santa Barbra
In August of 1985, David Kenneth Kurtzman was a 17–year-old student at Santa Barbara’s Northwestern Preparatory School. He shared dormitory “B” with James Tramel and seven others. On the night of August 2, 10 to 15 Northwestern students, including Tramel and 3 others from dormitory B, were involved in an altercation in downtown Santa Barbara with a gang called the City Rockers. The confrontation stopped short of an actual fight, but one of the Northwestern students was kicked in the back as the incident was breaking up.
Upon returning to dormitory B, the four informed the others what had occurred. Someone said that at least one of the City Rockers was armed with a knife. The group planned to retaliate. The next day Tramel told the students of dormitory B that retaliation required the purchase of dark clothing, knives, climbing ropes, grappling hooks and materials for making sodium bombs.
That evening, Kurtzman, Tramel and Eric Rixen, another student involved in the altercation, dressed in dark clothing and went out looking for local “hot spots” where the City Rockers would congregate. They wished to warn other students to avoid those areas. They were armed with a six inch military knife which Tramel had blackened over a candle so it would not glare in light. Before leaving the dormitory Tramel told a fellow student that he might use the knife if he got into a fight. The student asked “What do you want to do, kill somebody? Kurtzman replied either “We have to” or “If we have to.”
The three youths walked around downtown Santa Barbara, eventually reaching the spot where the altercation with the City Rockers had occurred the night before. Tramel and Kurtzman became separated from Rixen. Tramel then thought he saw a member of the City Rockers and he and Kurtzman followed him for several blocks before losing him in a city park.
Kurtzman was holding the knife as the two crossed the park to meet Rixen at a predesignated rendezvous point. They both climbed the steps of a gazebo in the park only to be startled when someone at the top sat up. They exchanged a few words with the person, and Tramel said to Kurtzman that he thought this was one of the City Rockers. Kurtzman started down the steps, turned and saw the person rolling a sleeping bag, and attacked him with the knife.
Kurtzman repeatedly stabbed and cut the throat of the person, Micheal Stephenson, a transient who had been sleeping in the park. After returning to the dormitory, Tramel bragged to his fellow students that they had “bagged a Mexican.” Kurtzman said “I killed him just like James showed me.”
A jury found Kurtzman guilty of second degree murder. On appeal, Kurtzman argues that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that it must consider and reach a verdict on second degree murder before it may consider the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. Kurtzman also contends that the trial court erred in admitting a tape recorded confession of the murder made by Kurtzman assertedly in violation of his Miranda rights.