Prosecution veteran returns to serve
murder trials, including the prosecution
of Charles Manson, but now he's coming
out of retirement to handle municipal misdemeanors.
He was a key prosecutor in the Charles Manson family murder trials.
He sent Lawrence Bittaker, arguably the South Bay's
cruelest and most heinous rapist and killer, to death row.
He gained fame while handling the trial against
photographer Charles Rathbun, who murdered model
And now? Stephen Kay is coming out of retirement to
do battle with alleged drunken drivers, people accused
of domestic violence and taggers. As Redondo Beach's
new city prosecutor, Kay will be working misdemeanors
On Tuesday, for example, he returns to the Torrance
Courthouse to prosecute a man accused of fraudulently
using a state Assembly badge.
"The last misdemeanor I tried was in 1968," Kay, 63,
said with a laugh. "I have a lot to catch up on."
A mixture of personal tragedy and fate brought Kay, a
longtime South Bay resident, out of nearly two years of
First, his 34-year-old son, also an attorney, died suddenly
of a heart attack.
"I think I just needed to get out of the house and get a job
and get my mind off of what happened," Kay said.
Then he ran into a longtime friend, Redondo Beach City Attorney
Mike Webb, in a jewelry store just after Christmas.
The two got to chatting about Alan Honeycutt, the last city
prosecutor, who was recently appointed to the bench, leaving
a vacancy in Webb's office.
"I said, 'Mike, if there's any way I can help you, don't
hesitate to ask,' " Kay said Webb's response: "Really?"
A week later, Webb called, and Kay was on his way back
He's made a one-year commitment to the job, and then
he and Webb will re-evaluate.
In retirement, Kay has traveled to Russia, Alaska and
New England. He kept busy helping one of his daughters
with her new boutique.
Kay retired in March 2005 after 38 years with the
District Attorney's Office, where he served as head
deputy twice for the Torrance office, as well as the
Long Beach and Compton branches. He was also head
deputy of the Brady Compliance Division two times,
and helped establish a program in which prosecutors
attend parole hearings for perpetrators of major
crimes serving indeterminate life sentences.
When he thought about returning to law, he knew
that, generally, the only place a former prosecutor
can go is the other side.
"I was in a position that I didn't want to be a criminal
defense attorney," Kay said. "I have respect for criminal
defense attorneys and they're an important part of the
system, but it's not for me.
"I don't want to use my talent to try to get a guilty
person off," Kay said.
Defense attorneys that know, or know of, Kay are
not threatened by his experience or reputation; on
the contrary, they welcome a prosecutor widely
perceived as fair and knowledgeable.
"Unfortunately, he'll be a tough adversary in court,"
said Andrew Thorpe, head of the Public Defender's
Office in Torrance. "However, I'm hoping he will
look at misdemeanors in a more favorable
Deputy Public Defender Richard Ewell has practiced criminal defense for less than a year, but said he is not intimidated by his formidable veteran opponent.
"Sure, he has lots of experience. But when's the last time he's tried a case?" Ewell said.
Like Thorpe, Ewell hoped that Kay's experience
on serious cases will give him better perspective
on the petty crimes he will now be handling.
"I hope that, as a prosecutor, he can do something
to reform a little bit of the heavy-handedness that
Redondo Beach prosecutors have had up to this
point," said Ewell, who also represents defendants
charged with misdemeanors for crimes in other
South Bay cities.
Redondo Beach criminal defense attorney
Ryan Okabe has worked for Kay and said he is
happy to see him return.
"The good thing about Steve is he is really firm,
but he's fair, and he knows how to evaluate a case,"
Okabe said. "And if the facts warrant it, he's able to
work with the attorneys."
Webb said his office and the citizens of Redondo
Beach are fortunate to have Kay as their chief prosecutor.
"The residents of Redondo Beach have consistently
said that their top priority is public safety,"
Webb said. "Getting such a top legal talent to be a part
of our office will really help further meet that priority."