Lance Hillis was arrested time and again, for possession of drugs and stealing. No rehab program seemed to help.
"Quite literally, he was killing himself. We tried everything," says Lance's father, Chris Hillis. "I knew he had to hit bottom. I knew he had to start paying some consequences."
"Chris felt the best thing for Lance was a prison term," says Chris' wife, Pam.
By late 2000, Lance had tested positive for drugs 13 times. The state probation department recommended that he be sent to state prison for at least a year. And Lance's brother Jason, a parole officer, agreed: "I requested the court, or recommended, asked the judge if he would put Lance in custody for some time."
But whenever Lance faced serious jail time, prosecutor Steve Tauzer would come to the rescue. He appeared in court for Lance, lobbied judges for leniency and convinced a rehab program to take Lance back after he had failed to finish the treatment.
Although Tauzer's office was not handling the prosecution of Lance's cases, people in Bakersfield were beginning to wonder if Tauzer was abusing his power.
"It would have been much better for my office if he hadn't done what he had a perfect right to do," says Tauzer's boss and friend, District Attorney Ed Jagels. "That was Steve Tauzer. He was convinced that there was no one he couldn't help - no one he couldn't save."
Why did Tauzer risk his career and reputation for another man's son?
In his personal journal, found after his death, he wrote: "Although I was single … and had no children of my own, Lance seemed like a son to me. I was closer to him at that point than his own father."
But, as Lance's addiction deepened, even Tauzer began to question whether his way was the right way: "At what point was I just being conned? How long could I go on accepting one failure after another?"
On Aug. 7, 2002, Lance, after failing another rehab program, stole a car outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. He was killed in a head on collision, and according to police toxicology reports, he was high on meth at the time of the crash.
"When you lose a child, you have a lot of guilt. I can blame myself,. What should I have done," says Hillis, who adds that he also blames Tauzer for his son's death. "God's gonna hold him accountable. I believe that."
One month later, when Tauzer was discovered brutally stabbed to death, Hillis was seen as the most logical suspect.
After Hillis was arrested, the local newspaper, the Bakersfield Californian, began to question Tauzer's involvement with Lance.
"The fact is that Steve Tauzer sort of went beyond where he should have in terms of his office and gave this kid breaks that most people are not gonna get," says columnist Herb Benham. "As soon as the story began to unfold, the rumor had been, the feeling was, that Tauzer was involved with this young man romantically."
Allegations of an illicit sexual relationship between Tauzer and Lance were also being fueled in the local papers by Hillis.
"Mr. Tauzer was a homosexual, because he was abusing my son," says Hillis.
These allegations of abuse didn't sit too well in the Bakersfield community, says Benham: "This is not a town that's tolerant of homosexuality."
"What I don't like is the implication that Steve Tauzer was some kind of sexual predator. I have no information that he ever was," says Tauzer's friend, Scottie Wallace. "I'm certain if he had any kind of inclinations toward being gay or something, he would have said something to me."
The story made headlines, but neither the media nor Kern County Sheriff's office found any evidence that Tauzer was involved in an illicit sexual relationship with Lance.
Tauzer, however, was well aware of how Hillis felt about him, and he wrote about it in his journal: "Chris had become my sworn enemy. He told people he feared that there was an unnatural relationship between Lance and me, but if he knew Lance, he would have known that that was not true. He hated me because I helped Lance."
But did Hillis hate Tauzer enough to kill him? "I don't like using that term hate," says Hillis. "I didn't kill him."
Chris Hillis has spent nearly a year behind bars in solitary confinement for a murder he insists he did not commit: "If I was gonna do this, I certainly wouldn't do it a month after my son's death. The time frame is scary. Certainly wouldn't have been done in the manner it was done or at his house."
If he didn't kill Steve Tauzer, who does he think did?
"I have my suspicions. You put yourself at risk when you get involved in certain lifestyles," says Hillis, who, along with his lawyer, Kyle Humphrey, believe that Tauzer led a secret life.
"This looked like a homosexual scene. The number of stab wounds. The brutality, the apparent brutality of the killing, is typical in what we see in homosexual killings," says Humphrey. "Anybody walking into this crime scene, it would scream interrupted robbery or hustler killing."
Dave Druliner and Mike Farrell, with the office of the California Attorney General, are prosecuting Chris Hillis. They say the evidence paints a picture of the murder.
"The fact that he was found in his boxer shorts indicates that perhaps he was either getting ready for bed, or was pulled out of bed when the murder occurred," says Farrell. "We don't know if Steve Tauzer knew that he was in big trouble, and tried to make a run for it through the kitchen door, and out through the garage."
In the garage, where the murder took place, police found a critical piece of evidence. According to Druliner, a microscopic amount of the killer's DNA was found on the knife found next to Tauzer's body -– which "indicates to us quite clearly that the killer was Christopher Hillis."
Humphrey, however, says the DNA, like many things in this case, is suspect: "No eyewitnesses. No blood. No fiber. No hair. No shoe prints. They got nothing. So what they're doing is tying everything into two tiny, little, invisible specks of DNA and lots of drama."
The other speck of DNA was found on a beer bottle in Tauzer's kitchen. Again, the prosecution claims the DNA belongs to Hillis, and strangely, is mixed with DNA from Tauzer.
"Easily, Steve Tauzer could have drunk the beer, maybe an hour or two before Chris Hillis came over," says Farrell. "The murder occurred and Chris Hillis, in a moment of bravado, grabbed a half-empty beer bottle, and took a swig."