Who Killed The Prosecutor?

Was It Revenge, Or Did Steve Tauzer Have A Dark Secret?

48 Hours: Steve Tauzer 01:45

Assistant District Attorney Steve Tauzer had a reputation for seeking justice, and for reaching out to people -- to make things right.

On Sept. 15 2002, Tauzer, who had been Kern County assistant district attorney for almost 20 years, was found dead in his garage. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the head.

Correspondent Erin Moriarty reports on the shocking, brutal murder of a man whom nearly every cop and lawyer in Bakersfield, Calif., knew and respected.

When Det. John Solis first arrived on the scene, he knew this was no ordinary investigation. "What we found, once we made entry inside the garage, was Steven Tauzer's body. And he was lying on a blue vinyl tarp. He was face down," says Solis. "Whoever killed Mr. Tauzer was possibly a madman who was full of hate."

District Attorney Ed Jagels was both Tauzer's boss and a long-time friend: "He was always loaning or giving money to family members and other people. He was interested in salvaging people. He was just that kind of guy."

Tauzer, who grew up in Northern California, was the oldest of 14 children, and a role model for his sisters. A life-long bachelor, Tauzer was an uncle to more than 25 nieces and nephews.

As a prosecutor, he was known for his big heart. And he had been with the DA's office for nearly 30 years - making many friends and dangerous enemies.

"We investigated different avenues, including drug dealers and drug users," says Det. Laura Lopez, who also worked on the case. "Whoever committed this crime was very forceful and very, very angry."

Det. Solis said three knives were found at the scene of the crime, and there was no signs of forced entry - which indicated that Tauzer may have invited the killers in. There also were empty beer bottles found in Tauzer's kitchen, suggesting that he even may have socialized with his killer before the murder.

"Based on the injuries that Mr. Tauzer had, I felt that whoever committed this crime had something personal against Mr. Tauzer," says Det. Lopez.

That's when investigators started looking at a rather unlikely suspect, Chris Hillis. "I had information at the crime scene that Mr. Hillis had an ongoing problem with Steven Tauzer regarding Lance Hillis," says Det. Solis.

Chris Hillis is a former cop and an investigator who had worked for Steve Tauzer. Police believe there could be motive in the complex relationship between Hillis, his 22-year-old son, Lance, and Tauzer.

Hillis was arrested and charged with Tauzer's murder one month after the prosecutor's death. "It just seems so unreal.I never had dreamed in a million years that I'd be in custody in a cell, looking at the charges I'm looking at," says Hillis, who claims he's innocent.

He believes that authorities are gunning for him to cover up a dark secret about Tauzer: "He was completely obsessed with my son. He was obsessed."

What makes the arrest of Hillis so shocking is that the man he is accused of killing had once been a friend and fellow co-worker. But at some point, their friendship turned into a feud over one issue: Chris' son, Lance, who was battling a drug problem.

Tauzer, a bachelor who just lived down the street, would often stop by the Hillis' house for dinner. "He [Tauzer] started showing an interest in Lance when Lance was, you know, in his mid-teens," says Hillis, whose other son, Jason, noticed it, too.

Lance's infatuation with drugs got out of control when he was 16. And in Bakersfield, where methamphetamine is cheap and plentiful, Lance's life took a downward spiral that led to tragedy for him and everyone who loved him.

"He used pot, but when he started using this methamphetamine, it just completely took control of him," says Hillis. "The latter stages, he was injecting it."

Solving Lance's drug problem became his father's addiction.

"I spent a lot,…just talking to him. And I tried to reason with him," says Hillis. "Lance didn't respond to those things. Drugs just became too important to him."

Hillis turned to Tauzer for help. Tauzer jumped at the opportunity to help out Hillis' son, but as he got more and more involved, Hillis says he began to fear that his help was actually hurting Lance: "He [Lance] he stole a compressor from a business and was arrested in Steve Tauzer's car."

Both men wanted to help Lance, but they disagreed on how. Chris Hillis believed that the only way to help his son was to send him to prison to dry out. But Tauzer disagreed, and believed rehab would do the job.

"He kept saying that, 'Lance, you know, was not a drug addict.' And I would say Lance is a drug addict," says Hillis.

According to Jagels, Tauzer thought that Hillis may also have been part of the problem: "Chris was, as a policeman, and apparently as a father, a very rigid individual. And his belief was that the kid had to go to prison and 'hit rock bottom.'"

The battle over control escalated when Lance left home and needed a place to live. Tauzer helped pay for Lance's apartment.

"I think Lance's apartment became somewhat of a safe place to go and use drugs," says Hillis, who went to the apartment one hot summer night to check up on his son. "It was surreal. They had the rigs and the spoons and the drugs and everything ... I put Lance in handcuffs and I ran the other guy off."

Hillis says he blamed Tauzer for letting this happen: "I called Mr. Tauzer and had him come to this apartment. And I showed him drugs and I showed him needles. I absolutely begged this man to leave my son alone. Pleaded with him ... It continued. He crossed the line."

Part II: Who Killed Steve Tauzer?