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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Rumors Of Gay Sex Scandal Plague Bakersfield

Aired June 27, 2003 - 20:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZHAN, CNN ANCHOR: For months it has been the talk of Bakersfield, California, a medium-sized city about 100 miles from Los Angeles.
The local daily newspaper published an extraordinary series of articles that used a current murder case as a springboard to investigate a local legend that a group of powerful gay men secretly ran the city and helped cover up one of another's indiscretions and crimes. As you might imagine, a story like that has created a firestorm and Charles Feldman has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By any measure, the murder case involving a county assistant DA is a bit strange.

Stephen Tuazer was killed police say by this man, Chris Hillis, a former officer and investigator for the DA's office. Police say Hillis was angry over the relationship between his drug-addicted teen son, and the prosecutor. The prosecutor had been friends with the young man and fought to keep him out of jail against the father's wishes. The father wanted a tough love approach for the drug-addicted teen.

Chris Hillis has pleaded not guilty to the murder. But the strange case, scheduled for trial this fall, took a bizarre twist when a Bakersfield, California newspaper decided to look into whether the murder was similar to a string of other murders spanning decades, many involving gay men.

ROBERT PRICE, BAKERSFIELD, CALIFORNIAN: There is or has been something going on under the surface that would surprise a lot of people.

FELDMAN: And the paper went further suggesting a possible link between the case Tuazer and a local legend of sorts called the "Lords of Bakersfield."

(on camera): Who are the Lords of Bakersfield? That sounds like a bad movie. But who are they?

PRICE: I think it's just a loose collection of friends. Some prominent, in many cases well to do people who share some common interests beyond their professional associations. FELDMAN: What kind of interests?

PRICE: Well, young men.

FELDMAN: Sexually?

PRICE: Sexually, yes. And...

FELDMAN: Underage? Under 18?

PRICE: In some cases. And in some cases not.

FELDMAN (voice-over): With a population of about a quarter of a million, Bakersfield sits in the southern corner of the San Joaquin Valley, some two hours by car from L.A.

(on camera): Words often associated with Bakersfield are clean, safe, conservative, Republican, religious, isolated. And now, say numerous community leaders, it is also home of a long-running sex scandal involving potential abuse of power.

(voice-over): The California newspaper detailed case after case, naming names, and went on to out the paper's late publisher, suggesting he might have been one of the so-called Lords of Bakersfield. The paper's current publisher is his sister.

(on camera): What conclusions, if any, did you reach from reading all this material that your paper published?

GINGER MOORHOUSE, PUBLISHER: Learning about these different situations and different homicides and kind of, you know, scandalous stuff was shocking. But from my own mind, I can't say that I can't say that -- that I can say, Oh, there are definitely Lords of Bakersfield and this was definitely a situation where these people covered up a lot of this information to protect each other. Maybe they did. It was sort of left to the reader.

FELDMAN: The newspaper provided no solid evidence that a Lords of Bakersfield conspiracy still exists, although it may have provided the lawyer representing the man accused of killing the prosecutor a novel defense: that someone else killed the assistant DA, and the Lords of Bakersfield are covering it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If in fact history has repeated itself in this case, obviously that would be a great defense. And obviously we're looking for that.

FELDMAN: Welcome to Bakersfield, California. Known for its oil, its cotton and grapes, and now, its gay sex scandal.

Charles Feldman, CNN, Bakersfield, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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