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|Dana James Ewell|
January 28, 1971 |
Sunnyside, California, U.S.
|Parent(s)||Dale Ewell (father)
Glee Ewell (mother)
Dana was the second of two children born to Dale and Glee Ewell. Dale was a US Air Force veteran turned multi-millionaire businessman who specialized in the sale of small airplanes with his company Western Piper Sales, Inc., and had substantial investments in the stock market and local farmland. Glee had devoted much of her life to philanthropy and public service, briefly acting as a Spanish translator for the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s and later worked as a school teacher and held a seat at the State Bar of California on a committee that evaluated prospective judges. Dana's sister Tiffany, 24 years old at her death, was a graduate student while Dana had earned a finance degree from Santa Clara University.
Though the family was financially well-off, Dale and Glee lived a relatively modest lifestyle and avoided flaunting their wealth which was estimated at $7-8 million (equivalent to about $12.5 to $14 million in 2017).
During Dana's time at college, he had been attributing his father's accomplishments to himself and was posing as a wealthy entrepreneur when he actually had no such experience. A Santa Clara newspaper and the university yearbook both had printed stories on Dana in 1990, depicting him as "a self-made millionaire" who was enjoying the luxuries afforded by his nonexistent business success. After learning about Dana's lies, Dale and Glee modified their estate plan. Extended family believed that Dale planned on ending his financial support for Dana after his college graduation, a possible motive for the murders.
Murder and investigation
Dale, Glee and Tiffany were murdered Sunday April 19, 1992, in their home, near Fresno. At the time of the murders, Dana Ewell lived in the family home but was away with his girlfriend for the Easter weekend. The bodies were discovered two days after the murders, when Dana notified family friends in Sunnyside that he was unable to contact his parents.
After the murders, police spent four days at the Ewell home investigating the scene. The case was investigated by Fresno County Sheriff's Office homicide detectives John Souza and Chris Curtice. They suspected the killer was hidden in the house waiting for the family to return. Glee was shot four times while Tiffany and Dale were shot once. The murders had seemingly been planned and executed with care, such as when the shooter took discarded shell casings after firing the fatal gunshots. The shooter's aim was remarkable, missing only once while firing multiple shots. A box of 9mm shells, purchased by Dale in the early 1970s, was found in the home and were believed to have been used to kill the Ewells. The bullets recovered from the victims' bodies showed signs of the gun having been fitted with a homemade silencer. While the home appeared to have been searched for valuables, Souza (with extensive experience investigating burglaries) concluded the burglary was staged in an attempt to make the murders appear as if the family had interrupted a thief.
Police looked into the victims' background and found possible motives for the crime. In the 1970s Dale had sold airplanes for a California man named Frank Lambe who had been convicted for drug smuggling, after which Dale took over the business. Dale had also been involved in a troubled real estate development deal with his brother Ben, which threatened to cost investors millions in losses. Investigation ruled out these factors as possible motives for the murders.
Although Dana had an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the murders, having spent the Easter weekend with his girlfriend and her family in the San Francisco area some 200 miles away, authorities came to focus on him after eliminating other possible culprits. Extended family members, like Dale's brother, reported that Dana was inordinately interested in the details of his parents' last will and testament, and "visibly shaken and angry" upon learning that he would be unable to access most of his family's wealth until his 30s. Dale and Glee's estate plan created a legal trust that locked up most of their assets upon their death. A trustee was required to pay for Dana's care and expenses until the age of 25, while from 25 to 30 Dana was to receive dividends from investments but had no access to the principal. He would receive half the principal at age 30, and the remainder at age 35. However, Dana was the beneficiary of over $300,000 in life insurance payments that were not subject to trust restrictions or probate court oversight.
Joel Radovich, a college friend of Dana's, abruptly dropped out of school shortly after the murders and also came under suspicion. Dana was described as being obsessed with money and social status, while Radovich was preoccupied with guns and explosives. Dana had come under suspicion only days after the murders; Detective Curtise walked Dana through the crime scene and thought his reactions highly unusual, later recalling he thought: "That kid's dirty." Dana and Radovich attracted additional suspicion by both occupying the Ewell family home only a few weeks after the murders.  In the months after the murders, the pair were reported making many cash purchases like helicopter flight lessons (despite Radovich being unemployed) and communicating via a complex system of pagers and pay telephone calls seemingly designed to avoid being overheard. The police kept Ewell and Radovich under close surveillance for several months. In one instance a police detective wore a recording device and stood close to Radovich at a pay phone in May 1993, overhearing him make comments such as "They don't have evidence. They will try to catch you in a lie."
Forensic analysis found that the murder weapon was a high-end 9mm specialty rifle manufactured by Feather Industries in Trinidad, Colorado. Company records showed one such rifle had been purchased by Ernest Jack Ponce, a friend of the Radovich family, shortly before the murders. Ponce admitted buying the rifle for Radovich, but denied knowing it would be used for a crime. Ponce had further concealed evidence after the murders, making him an accessory. Ponce was granted immunity from prosecution and agreed to testify against Dana and Radovich, who were arrested in early 1995.
Trial and afterwards
Fresno County Assistant District Attorneys James Oppliger and Jeffrey Hammerschmidt prosecuted Ewell and Radovcich in a jury trial which lasted over eight months. Prosecutors argued that Ewell was motivated by greed, and that he promised Radovcich a share of his family's wealth. Ewell and Radovcich were represented by separate attorneys who took different strategies: Ewell's insisting his client was innocent, while Radovcich's believed the evidence was so overwhelming that a guilty verdict was probable and thus his main goal should be avoiding the death penalty.
Jurors deliberated for eleven days. Although they considered Ponce's testimony unreliable and suspecting he was more involved with the murders than he admitted, they found Ewell and Radovcich both guilty of three counts of first degree murder. The murderers were subject to stricter sentencing due to aggravating circumstances: multiple victims, murder for profit, and lying in wait. Though facing a potential death sentence, both avoided that fate. They were sentenced on July 20, 1998 to life sentences without the possibility of parole. All appeals have been denied.
The case is covered in the Forensic Files episode "Two in a Million" (season 11, episode 40, aired April 18, 2007), The New Detectives episode "Family Plots" (season 5, episode 9, aired January 25, 2000) and the Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice episode "Tailspin" (season 3, episode 5, aired September 5, 2003). City Confidential ("Fatal Inheritance"), American Justice ("Eight Million Reasons to Kill"), and Solved also did episodes on the case.
- Ewell v Scribner 1:06-cv-00186 AWI MJS (HC), US District Court for Eastern District of California (2011)
- "Son, Friend Convicted of Killing Parents, Sister". Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press. 13 May 1998. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- Arax, Mark (22 March 1993). "CALIFORNIA ALBUM : Slaying of Family Remains a Mystery : Fresno police have mostly discounted possible ties of wealthy businessman to drug dealing or disgruntled Filipino investors. They now focus on the lone surviving son". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- Crime and Punishment: Millions of Reasons to Kill, narrated by Bill Kurtis, accessed 14 October 2017
- Arax, Mark (21 March 1995). "Game of Dare Ends Between Detectives, Wealthy Suspect : Crime: Son of Fresno millionaire is charged with hiring hit men to kill his family. He maintains his innocence". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- "'Forensic Files' Season 12 Episode Guide", TV Guide, retrieved December 19, 2015
- Beitiks, Kathleen O. (May 1997). "Wheels of justice grind slowly in Ewell murders". California Bar Journal.
- "Dana Ewell biography". Biography.com. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
- Abrahamson, Alan; Arax, Mark (16 May 1995). "Fresno Murder Probe Leads to Key Evidence in Reseda". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- Vincent J. Schodolski. 2 Cops Work 5 Years To Prove Son Had Family Killed. The Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1997. Accessed 10 October 2017
- Erik Hedegaard (November 21, 2013). "Charles Manson Today: The Final Confessions of America's Most Notorious Psychopath - Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
Right now, he has only about 15 other prisoners to contend with, among them Juan Corona, who murdered 25 people in 1971; Dana Ewell, who ordered the murder of his own family in 1992; Phillip Garrido, the rapist who kidnapped 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard and held her for 18 years; and Mikhail Markhasev, who was convicted of killing Bill Cosby's son, Ennis.