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Victim’s son speaks up for dad’s killer

Parole board must decide now whether to free inmate

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Douglas Alan Yoakam

Douglas Alan Yoakam

At the start of the parole hearing for Douglas Alan Yoakam, Board of Pardons and Parole member Jesse Gallegos thought he knew what to recommend to the rest of the board.

But when the son of the man Yoakam murdered in 1977 spoke, his certainty crumbled.

"I would like Mr. Yoakam to know that I harbor no ill feelings towards him at all, and never really did from that day in 1977," said Richard Tauffer during the Jan. 3 hearing.

Tauffer's father, 67-year-old Justin Tauffer, was killed after he tried to help a woman Yoakam had handcuffed in Mill Creek Canyon.

Yoakam shot Justin Tauffer and the woman, Karen Roberson, with a Mac-10 submachine gun. Tauffer was hit six to nine times, and Roberson was hit three or four times.

"I guess the important thing is that I want him to know that I have no . . .desire for his unhappiness or anything like that at all," Richard Tauffer said.

Since that hearing, Gallegos has been wrestling with what to recommend. During the hearing, Gallegos said he originally planned to schedule another parole hearing in 2009.

"There you sit, taking a very noble position in regards to Mr. Yoakam," he told Richard Tauffer. "For that, I'm astounded."

Gallegos must make a recommendation to the other four members of the Board of Pardons, and then a majority of the board must agree on Yoakam's fate sometime in the next six weeks.

Yoakam has served 27 years of a possible life sentence for murdering Justin Tauffer. Psychological tests have revealed that Yoakam suffers from paranoia and possibly schizophrenia, Gallegos said.

That paranoia caused Yoakam to believe someone was shooting at him when he arrived at the parking lot in Mill Creek Canyon in May 1977.

"Everything still seems to be so real," Yoakam said. "I know it was just my imagination."

Yoakam said he took cover behind his car after he thought he heard the gunshots.

When Roberson came jogging through the area, Yoakam thought she was involved in the "shooting," and to protect himself, he tried to handcuff her, he said.

Justin Tauffer, driving through the area, heard Roberson's screams and approached to help. By that time, Yoakam had pulled a .22-caliber pistol. Tauffer asked Yoakam for the gun, and Yoakam complied.

But then Yoakam began to suspect Tauffer was also involved and got out his Mac-10.

Tauffer got between him and Roberson, Yoakam said.

"He looked over his shoulder into the woods," Yoakam said, and then Tauffer looked back at him and fell away.

Yoakam remembers the bursting glass of the car's window and that the gun, which can fire 20.8 rounds per second, was suddenly empty.

Tauffer died, and Roberson was crippled.

Yoakam told Gallegos he has been taking medication for paranoia the last three years.

"You seem like an OK person, but . . . you suffer from a mental illness," Gallegos said. "And sadly, that mental illness was so severe that you tragically took an innocent person's life."

Yoakam believes his paranoia, which caused him to carry weapons with him all the time, caused the entire incident, he said.

"I'm very sorry at what happened. If there was any way I could undo it I would do it," Yoakam told Gallegos. "I've gotta live with this for the rest of my life."

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com