Photo: Dave and Jane Laut.
So when the 52-year-old Olympian was gunned down in his backyard in August by a possible prowler, hundreds of people paid homage at a memorial service where he was described as a gentle giant.
In recent days, however, a darker portrait has emerged of what might have happened at the Laut home. His wife and high school sweetheart, Jane, was arrested and charged last Tuesday with his murder and her lawyer claimed it was to protect herself after abuse for much of their 29-year marriage.
Photo: Jane Laut's mug shot.
"There won't be any dispute she shot him," defense lawyer Ron Bamieh said. "Our position is it's a lawful homicide and it was done in self-defense. She was fearful of him."
Ventura County prosecutors claim Jane Laut killed her husband in cold blood, shooting him four times in the head.
Jane Laut, 52, posted $1 million bail on Friday and was released from jail. A temporary gag order was placed on attorneys and family members. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday.
Photo: Was Jane Laut being abused while putting a happy face on relationship?
Jane Laut initially told police that her husband went to the backyard Aug. 27, 2009 to investigate suspicious sounds and she heard shots fired, police said. Officers searched for a prowler, but concluded the killing was not random.
The prosecutor said Jane Laut repeatedly lied to police and attempted to hide evidence.
Her lawyer is now presenting a much different story, citing that she was a domestic abuse victim who lied to investigators because she had been hiding the truth of their violent relationship for years.
After a night of heavy drinking, Dave Laut went to bed and awoke to the sound of his dogs barking, Bamieh said. Jane Laut, who was sleeping in her son's room, said she tried to quiet her agitated husband. But in a fit of anger, Dave Laut grabbed a gun.
"He said he was going to kill Michael and make her watch," he said.
The argument spilled out into the yard where Dave Laut lost his balance and tripped at the edge of the patio. A struggle ensued and once Jane Laut had the gun, Dave Laut came at her after threatening to kill her and their son, Bamieh said.
"She doesn't know how many shots she fired," Bamieh said. "She has mourned his death. She has a strong belief that when all the facts are heard, the truth will come out."
Bamieh also showed photos of his bruised client that he said were taken after the killing.
Haney said Dave Laut had a blood-alcohol level of .05 percent, which is below the legal limit for intoxication.
Bamieh claims Dave Laut verbally and physically abused his wife for many years, even dating back to high school. He also said Jane Laut injected her husband with steroids on at least one occasion in the months leading up to the 1984 Olympics.
"In these kind of relationships you are conditioned to cover up the reality of your lifestyle," Bamieh told The Associated Press last Wednesday. "It's also heightened in this case by the fact that you have a public figure who had an impact on the community."
Friends and family members still struggle to comprehend what went wrong and are saddened that the couple's son, who is living with Jane Laut's brother, is without his parents.