The 16-year-old was being held in Contra Costa Juvenile Hall after his first court appearance Friday in the beating death of 52-year-old Pamela Vitale. He did not enter a plea or speak as the judge set bail at $1 million.
Defense lawyer and TV legal pundit Daniel Horowitz found his wife's body Oct. 15 at the couple's hilltop estate, where they were building their dream home. The teen lived down the hill in the wealthy suburb of Lafayette, about 20 miles east of San Francisco.
The San Francisco Chronicle, quoting unidentified law enforcement sources, reported Friday that the teen was running a credit-card scam and went to Horowitz and Vitale's estate trying to track down some marijuana-growing equipment he had ordered. He got into a fight there with Vitale, who was hit dozens of times in the head with a piece of crown molding, the newspaper reported.
According to the Chronicle, when the teen was arrested Wednesday he had scratches consistent with a violent struggle. Horowitz has said his wife appeared to have fought her attacker.
"This is a brutal homicide," Deputy District Attorney Harold Jewett said. "We believe it's a situation where he is not entitled to protections accorded him under juvenile law."
Jewett declined to comment on the Chronicle's report but said it was not helpful to the investigation.
Ivan Golde, a friend of Horowitz and his co-counsel, said Horowitz didn't know the teen well.
"Dan knew the family. He did not really, specifically know this young man. … He may have met this kid but really didn't know him,"
Horowitz has appeared on cable news networks as a legal commentator for such high-profile cases as the Scott Peterson murder trial. Vitale worked part-time for his law firm.
The teen's arraignment was set for Thursday. If convicted of murder as an adult, he could face up to life in prison; he is too young to face the death penalty.
Former classmates recalled that the teen, who turns 17 later this month, as a nonconformist who tested out of Acalanes High School early. Some described him as goth, dyeing his brown hair black and often wearing dark clothes and a long trench coat.
Keith Kingon said he told people he was reading the book of Satan and that he once drew a pentagram on the ground with chalk in junior high and danced around it.
Yearbook photos of the teen show a transformation from fresh-faced middle schooler to brooding teenager with black-rimmed eyes. But while some former classmates described him as a morose oddball, others who know him insisted he was basically a good kid.
His stepfather described him as a "thoughtful, intelligent young man" incapable of the brutal attack on Vitale.
"Not (him) — absolutely not," Hirschberger, who was married to the boy's mother for about four years in the 1990s, told the Chronicle. "There's absolutely no way he'd be involved in anything like this."
Vitale, 52, worked part-time for her husband's law firm. She was buried Thursday in a private ceremony.