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A Killer at the Door

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Returning to his home in the rugged hills just north of Oakland, TV legal analyst Daniel Horowitz felt a growing apprehension. Despite leaving messages, he had not heard from his wife, Pamela Vitale. “I had been calling her all day, but there was no answer,” says Horowitz. Then he spotted blood on the entrance of the house. “I saw the smear on the door, and it was dry,” Horowitz, 50, told PEOPLE. “Then I opened the door and I saw her. It was such a shock. But it was too late. I could not do anything.” Vitale, 52, had been bludgeoned to death, a horrific crime that days later Horowitz was having trouble accepting. “I can’t let go of her,” he says tearfully. “A few hours ago, I thought this was a dream, that deep down she was alive, that I could talk to her.”

Vitale, a former movie producer and dot-com exec, and Horowitz had been living for about a decade in a mobile home while they embarked on the marathon construction of their dream house, a 6,300-sq.-ft. mansion and garage in secluded woods. Had he been home, Horowitz says, he would have fought any intruder to the death. “I know Pamela would have gotten a gun and would have saved me,” he says. “I would have died for her.”

The Oct. 15 murder quickly became the sort of high-profile crime that Horowitz has handled so adroitly in his professional life. Over the years he had made a name for himself as an accomplished criminal defense lawyer in the Bay Area, as well as a sought-after legal pundit who provided commentary for, among others, CNBC, CNN and FOX News (and People). Working out of a storefront office in Oakland, he represented many accused drug dealers and killers, as well as the San Francisco Giants fan who was sued after retrieving the 700th home-run ball hit by Barry Bonds. More recently he had taken on the case of Susan Polk (see box). Friends of Horowitz’s wondered if some former or current client were involved in Vitale’s killing, but there seemed scant evidence for that. “We’re not focused on anyone,” said Contra Costa County Sheriff’s spokesperson Jimmy Lee, “nor have we ruled anyone out.”

One person with whom Horowitz did have a documented dispute was a neighbor, Joseph Lynch, 54. Last year Horowitz and Vitale bought a four-acre parcel of land from Lynch adjacent to their 12-acre property. Lynch, who lived in a mobile home on the tract, was permitted to stay; indeed last year Horowitz wrote a letter to a judge asking leniency for Lynch, who had been picked up for drunk driving. But according to Horowitz, Lynch recently had become belligerent, supposedly because he believed that Horowitz wanted to kill him. In a request this past June for an order of protection against Lynch, Horowitz painted a scary picture. “Joe Lynch is a good person at his core,” said Horowitz. “But he is also mentally ill. He is presently using methamphetamine and drinking heavily, and during this period he is delusional, threatening, violent and dangerous.”

On June 15 a judge granted a temporary restraining order against Lynch. But the couple never showed up for a June 23 hearing at which they could have gotten a permanent injunction, meaning the matter was thrown out. Horowitz says that at the time he told his wife, “If someone is going to commit a crime, what good would a piece of paper do?” Authorities confirmed that after Vitale’s murder they had interviewed Lynch, whom they described as “very cooperative.” In an interview with the Associated Press, Lynch acknowledged being on the property when the body was found but denied any involvement in the crime, pointing out that anyone could have entered the heavily wooded property. “There are countless ways to get in here,” he said.

Meanwhile friends described Horowitz and Vitale, who were soon to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary, as perfect soulmates. “She was always very poised, and when she walked around, people would turn and look,” says Court TV anchor Nancy Grace, who was a friend of the couple’s. “Those two were like peas in a pod.” Vitale, who had once been a Pan Am flight attendant and has two grown children from a previous marriage, met Horowitz through her sister, who thought they might produce a film together. Instead they produced sparks. “I fell in love, and she is the love of my whole life,” he says. Now, says Horowitz, all he feels is a crushing sense of loss. “People say it will get better when they catch who did this,” he says. “I’ll never know anything better, because she will never be back. It can’t be better. Why didn’t the killer take me rather than her?”