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[whitespace] Pati and Larry Park
Blood Sports: Many in the California autocross racing community have rallied in defense of Pati Park (pictured to the left in this composite photo), who claims the 1994 shooting of husband Larry (right) was an accident. Others see her as a cold-blooded murderer.

Dead Heat

When Corvette dealer and race car driver Larry Park found a girlfriend almost half his age, wife Pati Park got upset. Then she got a gun.

A tale of love gone wrong--dead wrong--in the breakneck world of fast cars and fast women.

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

ON A BREAK-HEART HOT VALLEY DAY in July of 1994, Pati Park put her dog, Suds, under one arm, gathered her purse and a bag of shirts in another, walked into the office of the California Corvette dealership in Milpitas, held a brief conversation with her husband, Larry, behind closed doors, and then fired a .38 caliber bullet into his abdomen.

Workers in the showroom outside heard Larry Park shout out what would prove to be the final words of his life, "You shot me, you bitch!" When they rushed into the office they found a hysterical Pati holding the gun by the muzzle and sobbing, "Make sure Larry's OK." Larry was slumped on the floor, holding his side. He was dead within moments.

The truth behind Larry Park's shooting death--pre-planned malice, spontaneous act of passion or tragic accident--is still unsolved in the minds of many who knew the couple.

What is known is that the death of 45-year-old Larry Park at the hands of his wife of 24 years ended a storybook journey that began for him as a millworker's son in the Northern California foothills near the Oregon border, and for her in a Scottish slum. It led, eventually, to a mansion in the South Bay hills, a thriving Corvette dealership and the heady fame of national autocross racing championships. A year after the shooting, Pati Park was convicted of second-degree murder with the special circumstance of the use of a firearm and sentenced to a term of 18 years to life. Today, she sits in a California prison cell in Chowchilla while she awaits a federal judge's decision as to whether her appeal of her second-degree murder conviction will be heard. If she wins her appeal and is allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter, her sentence could be reduced to nine years, and she could be out of jail within a year or two.

Divided We Stand

THE DEATH OF LARRY PARK left a bitterly divided community of family and friends on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Everyone [in the California autocross racing community] has picked sides," says John Kelly Jr. of Pleasanton, editor of North American Pylon, a magazine that reports on the sport, adding that friendships broke up over the issue.

Some have rallied around Pati Park's case and raised money for her defense, contending that the shooting of her husband was an accident.

"I have never been so convinced of 'accident' and 'unintentional' tragedy in my professional career," family friend Ronald E. Blair wrote to the judge at Pati Park's sentencing hearing. He said at the time of Larry Park's death, he'd known the couple 23 years. Blair called Park's conviction a "misguided verdict."

In addition, family, community members and clergy from Pati Park's native Scotland wrote letters on her behalf to the Santa Clara County Superior Court at the time of Park's conviction, pleading for leniency.

But others close to the situation think of Pati Park as a murderer who deserves the punishment she received.

"You wake up and the calendar has turned to the year 2000 and you realize in the back of your head that the day is coming [when Pati Park will be released]," says Lori Park, the wife of Larry Park's younger brother, from her home in the mountains of western Montana. She is soft-spoken and articulate, but even six years after the death of her brother-in-law, the quiet anger against Pati Park is evident just beneath the surface. "I'll be real disappointed if [the appeal] goes [Pati's] way. But I'm kind of in strong faith that the system is going to work in Larry's favor. I guess I have to believe that she's going to be there for a while."

Odd Couple

THEY MET IN A BAR in Germany in 1970. He was a U.S. Army radar mechanic. She was a secretary at the U.S. Air Force Base in Wiesbaden. Pati had grown up in a two-bedroom Glasgow tenement with five brothers. The apartment was so small that her parents slept in the kitchen. She left home at 16, working her way across Europe in various low-skilled jobs, including work as a hotel chambermaid. Larry grew up the oldest of four children in Redding, where his father worked in a lumber mill. The family was so poor that at one point they lived in a tent. His parents saved their money and bought a sheep ranch in the hills of western Montana when Larry was 14. Though he was a hard worker, he hated sheep, and a family member says he joined the Army straight out of high school to get away from the ranch.

They seemed to be an oddly matched couple. A family friend later wrote, "Larry was the clever optimist, sure-handed and thorough, while Patricia was the pessimist and the epitome of clumsy." He was long and gangly, over six feet tall with a bushy moustache and movie-star smile; she was a foot shorter and had the look of a pixie about her. Their height difference was so pronounced that she at first refused a date with him. Later, they referred to the difference in terms that marked their deep affection for each other. She called him "Turkey Legs," he called her "Munchkin." They married later that year and lived for a time in a mobile home in Montana while he attended classes and eventually graduated from Montana State University. They moved to San Jose in 1974 when Larry took a job as an engineer with IBM.

Sandra Milder of San Jose, who knew the couple for 20 years, later wrote to the Santa Clara County Superior Court, "They had a relationship which was based on mutual trust, love and respect. Their combined intelligence and fun loving spirit made them a couple whose company was often sought."

Drive, He Said

BUT LARRY TIRED as quickly of the white-shirt-and-suit, 10 o'clock-coffee-break atmosphere as he had of sheep dip and sheep shit on the Montana ranch. In 1975 he began autocross racing, continuing a love of building and running fast vehicles that had begun in his boyhood.

"They made their fun with apple crates and wheels," Lori Park says of Larry and her husband, Bruce, about their days in Redding. "Larry designed the go-carts and put my husband in the go-cart and pushed him off of the top of the hill. What was left when Bruce got to the bottom of the hill, they rebuilt. The joke between the two of them growing up was they would race cars; Larry would build them and Bruce would drive them."

Instead, Larry ended up doing both. While still at IBM in the mid-'70s he began modifying Corvettes and entering them into autocross events in Northern California, slalom races in parking lots and military bases where drivers roared around complex, cone-marked courses against the clock. Larry became one of the best autocrossers, both at building and at driving. One of his cars was a $150,000 "super-powerhouse of a Corvette," according to Pylon editor Kelly, that is still being raced out of Sunnyvale.

"Larry rebuilt the engine, the transmission, the rear end, the suspension," Pati said at her trial. "He even painted the car."

But Larry was not the only autocross aficionado in the family. Pati soon followed him in the events. Both Pati and Larry became extraordinarily good, racing practically everywhere on summer weekends up and down the West Coast, including the major raceway at Sears Point. Pati's times were fast enough to beat many men, including, at times, her own husband. Larry eventually started his own autocross group, American Autocross Series, and graduated to professional road racing against other automobiles. Between 1979 and 1992 Larry won five national autocross championships held in Illinois and Kansas. Pati's results were even more marked as she became a seven-time national champion.

Dealer Take All

MEANWHILE, both inside and outside of racing, everything Larry and Pati Park touched seemed to turn to gold. While Pati did clerical work and eventually graduated from the San Jose Beauty College with a degree in cosmetology, Larry quit IBM in 1977 to open an auto repair shop out of the couple's garage. His popularity both as a race-car driver and as a mechanic skyrocketed the business. A decade later he had opened up a Corvette dealership in Milpitas and Pati was able to quit her job as a hospital clerical worker to begin operating a tanning salon.

"Larry was the kind of guy you remembered," says sister-in-law Lori Park. "He had a smile from hell. He was up-front and honest. He had an ability with people. He knew what they liked, and he could talk about it. He was a magnet. He was easy to joke with ... he loved to joke. But he'd call you on the gray areas. You didn't bullshit Larry, because he wouldn't let it go by. He had this aura around him. He was just easily liked. He was one of those people you say, 'No wonder he died so young.' He had to get a lot in life early."

Larry and Pati Park had no children, and Lori says that Larry ended up a loving uncle to her children. "When they were juniors in high school, he called them up and said, 'Get on a plane, come on over and spend two weeks with me.' He met my youngest daughter at the airport and said, 'Here's a convertible.' And I was on the phone going, 'Larry, you idiot!' And he said, 'What are they going to do? Get lost? They'll come back.' "

The Parks' devil-may-care lifestyle became legendary in the Santa Clara Valley. "I heard a story that Larry bought a huge house," one friend recounted. "But before they could move into it, somebody made him a great offer, and he sold the house and made a ton of money."

Instead, the couple built what was described by Pati as Larry's "dream house," a huge mansion on Calaveras Road in the hills above Milpitas. Pylon editor Kelly, who visited the house once, said it was so high up "you looked down on the planes landing at San Jose Airport." Kelly says the house contained a garage so cavernous "Larry could drive in with a pickup truck towing a Corvette behind him and still clear the door. There were about 14 or 15 other cars stowed in there. The garage itself was a huge barn of a building."

The dream house on Calaveras was designed by Jeff Glorioso and landscaped by his son-in-law, Ren Marinus, close friends from Folsom, whom the couple had met on the autocross circuit. But while the building of the Calaveras mansion marked the high point of the Parks' life, the association with the Gloriosos and the Marinus family was the bend in the road that eventually led to Larry Park's death on the office floor at California Corvette and to Pati Park's incarceration at Chowchilla.

Shauna Marinus Third Side of the Triangle: Shauna Marinus said at Pati's trial that she and Larry Park had 'expressed feelings' for each other but the relationship had not gone beyond kissing.

Ego Driven

'DENIAL RUNS RAMPANT in [autocross]," writes columnist Mark Sipe in last month's North American Pylon. "[It is] a guaranteed, insidious byproduct of the over-pumped [autocross] ego. The [autocross] ego ... is a funny beast; you can't stand to live with it, yet you can't be without it. To be a good [autocross] driver requires tremendous confidence and an unwavering belief in your ability to perform. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing also gets us to believing that the only way this or that driver can beat us is to cheat."

Sometime in 1993, Pati Park began to perceive a rival to her position, someone whom she had good reason to believe was cheating. The rival was 20 years younger than Pati, the blond and beautiful Shauna Glorioso Marinus, the daughter of family friends Jeff and Sandy Glorioso, the wife of fellow autocross driver Ren Marinus. When the Parks first met her in the '80s, according to Pati, Shauna was "just a kid."

She had grown up the quintessential California golden girl in the hot Folsom flatlands. As a girl, Shauna Marinus competed in show-horse trials, but her real love was auto racing. On her refrigerator at home, in a list of goals, she placed world champion race-car driver as number one. She was driving at Sears Point on the day she was supposed to graduate from high school in 1986. By 1994 she had won two national championships. In 1998, she was named Solo II Driver of the Year. Veteran racecar champion TC Kline, to whose racetrack team Marinus now belongs, calls her "a natural."

But auto racing was not the venue where the real rivalry between Pati Park and Shauna Marinus developed, grew bitter and exploded into violence. They began competing for the affection of Larry Park.

In a 1995 letter to the Santa Clara County Adult Probation Department requesting harsh sentencing for Pati Park, Larry Park's sister, Vonnie Nagel, conceded that "Larry was no saint." She did not elaborate, but events in 1993 show that Larry's own actions may have led in part to the fatal confrontation that ended his life.

At Pati's trial, the 26-year-old Marinus testified that she and the 45-year-old Larry had "expressed feelings" for each other sometime in 1993 after Larry called her down to the South Bay for a get-together, and the two began meeting secretly at various Northern California hotels. Marinus denied that there was a sexual relationship, saying it had not gone beyond kissing.

At the time, Pati Park had other things on her mind. Back in Glasgow, her mother was seriously ill with throat cancer, and in June of 1993, Pati and Larry flew back to visit. A month after they returned to Milpitas, Pati's mother died. Within a week after Pati's mother's death, Larry and Shauna reportedly told their respective spouses of the affair, saying they planned to leave their homes to live with each other.

The announcement of the pending breakup devastated the Park and Marinus families. Both Pati and Ren threatened suicide, and Larry drove Pati to Kaiser Hospital in Martinez, where she had once worked, and where she checked herself in overnight to see a psychiatrist. A doctor placed Pati on medication to relieve her depression. The reactions of Pati and Ren so affected Larry and Shauna that they promised not to see each other again. Soon, all four members of the two couples were attending counseling sessions.

Three days after she returned from the hospital, Pati bought a .38 revolver and began taking lessons in its use.

Circuit Breakers

THE CLOSE ASSOCIATION of the Parks with the Marinus and Glorioso families gave Pati no space to forget the relationship. Aside from the fact that she lived in a house designed and landscaped by Shauna's father and husband, Pati saw Shauna practically every weekend at racing events. At her trial, Pati described one social event on the autocross circuit when Larry and Shauna played on the same team together at a pickup volleyball game. Too short to get picked for either team, Pati stood and watched from the sideline.

The result was several bitter confrontations between the two women in the year following the revelation of the affair. In trial testimony, Shauna accused Pati of threatening her, cursing her in public and, on one occasion, walking past her at a racing event and oinking like a pig. Pati admitted at trial that she had crossed out Shauna's name on a Rolodex card at her home, drawing in a skull and crossbones above it. Both Jeff Glorioso and Ren Marinus confronted Pati at racetracks about her public attacks on Shauna, Ren once shouting at Pati while she was strapped down in her racecar and getting ready to race. The bitterness between the Park, Glorioso and Marinus families grew so great that they discussed dividing up the autocross circuit so that they would not have to see each other.

Pati had good reason not to forget the relationship between Larry and Shauna ... they certainly had not. There was testimony at trial that Larry had moved his clothes out of his bedroom at the Milpitas mansion in late August of 1994 and was making plans again to leave Pati. Pati discovered that Larry had lied about not seeing Shauna again and was planning on meeting her in Stockton on a weekend trip. Eventually, Shauna and Larry learned of Pati's discovery and reportedly called off the trip. But on the Sunday of the proposed meeting, Pati drove up to Folsom with a friend and with her gun under her seat, looking for Shauna. Pati later testified that she had no intention of using the gun. They drove by Shauna's house twice, Pati once sending her friend to knock on the door. Shauna wasn't home.

The next day, Pati Park walked into the office at California Corvette and fired a bullet into Larry Park's abdomen, shooting him to death.

Opposites Detract

SHORTLY AFTER her conviction, friends and family members gave radically different views of Pati Park, taking opposite sides on how harshly she should be sentenced.

"It is unusual in present day to meet couples in Patricia's age group with long-term marriage relationships," wrote Ronald Blair. "It is safe for me to conclude that Larry and Patricia were lovers and best friends. It is also easy for me to conclude that this jury failed to see the true relationship and were swayed by the Prosecution's version of triangle, hate and fear."

"Pati is a kind, loving, sensitive sincere, honest person," wrote Beth Palicz of Hayward, saying she'd been a close friend for 20 years. "She is bright and has a delightful disposition. She displayed all these characteristics during her marriage to Larry, and has endured great emotional suffering over his death."

Both Blair and Palicz are presently raising money for Pati Park's appeal.

But Larry Park's Montana family took a different position. "I do believe that Pati should be punished to the full extent of the law, without parole, and hopefully with extensive therapy," wrote Larry's sister, Vonnie Nagel, in 1995. "Pati has shown no remorse or guilt since Larry's death. Pati is very vindictive and has shown a great hostility toward my brother Bruce, his wife Lori, Shauna [Marinus] and other family members and friends who were in California for the trial."

Lori Park was more explicit. "I have witnessed for years her ballistic behavior," she wrote to the court. "The family learned to coddle her to prevent unpleasant gatherings. During [trips to California] we witnessed her verbal outbursts. Often times Larry would apologize for her. Patricia seldomly ever apologized for her anger. She blamed it on PMS or forgetting to take her 'happy pill.' Patricia Park needs to be taken out of the public and treated as a dangerous offender. Without Larry by her side to calm her outbursts she will continue to be a threat to the immediate people involved in this case. I don't feel comfortable with the thought that she some day soon will be free to attack my family."

Pati and Larry Park
The Woman Behind the Man: Some friends say Pati and Larry Park were 'lovers and best friends.' Larry's family members paint a different picture, saying Pati was prone to 'verbal outbursts.'

Slip on Appeals

PATI PARK HERSELF has not spoken out publicly on her case since she asked for probation at her sentencing. The California State Courts have rejected her state appeal; a habeas corpus petition alleging ineffective counsel at trial, among other things, is pending in federal court. However, an increasingly stringent federal appeals procedure put in place by recent conservative rulings made by the Rehnquist Supreme Court make it possible that Park may not get the chance to have her federal appeal heard.

Supreme Court rulings now mandate that a defendant loses his or her right to appeal a state conviction to federal court one year after appeals in state court are dismissed. Park's time limit for federal appeal has run out, but she contends that she missed the deadline because a previous attorney sat on the case and did nothing.

Park has since hired another attorney, Frank Prantil of Sacramento, who has filed a petition asking that the Federal District Court in San Jose overturn Park's conviction. The California Attorney General's office has opposed the petition, asking that it be dismissed because Park's attorney missed the filing deadline. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel has promised a ruling within the month on whether Park will even be allowed to state her claims in federal court.

Santa Clara University law professor Ellen Kreitzberg believes the one-year time limit on habeas corpus petitions is an unfortunate law centered on the Supreme Court's zeal to limit death-penalty appeals.

"We need finality," she says. "This is the rationale that the Court espouses when they have imposed years of rulings on setting very strict limits for filing. In any other circumstance we would never punish the client for the sins of the lawyer. And here, fine the lawyer for not filing on a timely basis, but why would you impose that kind of denial of an important constitutional claim based on a lawyer's ineptitude?"

Bad Accident

APPEALS ATTORNEY FRANK Prantil sits in his narrow penthouse office overlooking the capitol building in Sacramento, discussing the ineptitude of Pati Park's previous attorneys. He is her fifth. The scarecrow-slender, self-described former radical troublemaker from San Diego has the hairdo of a middle-aged hippie, balding at the top, long at the back, and thoughtful eyes that flash the color of faded denim jeans as he talks about what he characterizes as the unforgivable mistakes made by Park's previous lawyers.

"One of the main contentions we have is that she did not receive effective assistance of [her original] counsel because he never discussed with her the possibility of pleading to the manslaughter charge," Prantil says. "It's not a question of a plea bargain. She should have pled, for Christ's sake. The gun's in her hand ... the smoking gun's in her hand ... and this was over the fact that he was fucking around on her." Prantil's desert-dry voice rises with emotion as he considers the issue. "I mean, when you kill someone and there's no allegation of self-defense, the best you're going to get is manslaughter. It's a crime of passion. So why in the hell didn't he plead her to that? If I'd been her attorney, I'd have told her, 'You plead to that or I'm getting off the case.' In our appeal, we're asking the federal court to reverse her [second-degree murder] conviction and remand the case back to state court with an order to allow her to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter."

But Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Joyce Ferris-Metcalf, who prosecuted the Park case, says that Pati Park had her chances to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter but rejected them.

"Gee, isn't hindsight wonderful?" she says with a wry laugh. "As I remember at trial, she was saying all along this was totally an accident. I mean now, after the jury didn't buy that argument, they're saying, 'Maybe we shouldn't have used it.' "

Ferris-Metcalf says she has a letter in her file from San Jose attorney Philip Pennypacker, who represented Park at trial, specifically stating that Park rejected a voluntary manslaughter plea because it involved mandatory prison time. Pennypacker agrees that Park rejected the plea.

"We had discussions with [the judge] about settling the case and my recollections are that I was trying to get involuntary manslaughter, an accidental firing of the gun," says Pennypacker, a former president of the Santa Clara County Bar Association and considered one of the best defense attorneys in the valley. "I didn't press her to take this plea, or to take any plea. I weighed the risks and balances to her and let her make a decision on what I thought ethically and morally she might be convicted of. And what she was saying was not falling into the area [of voluntary manslaughter]."

Park herself alleged at her own trial that the shooting was accidental. She says that she and Larry were discussing a trip they were going to take the next day to compete in a race and that he was looking at some shirts she had bought for him the day before in Sacramento, the same day that she had gone looking for Shauna Marinus. Park testified that she told Larry she had the gun with her, and he didn't believe her, asking to see it. "I just kind of pulled it out of my purse, and I spun it on my finger. Larry was calling me Calamity Jane. And I made the 'phew' sound and blew in the barrel." Park said she'd been prompted to pull the twirling stunt by the movie Tombstone, which she said she and her husband had seen. At that point, Park testified that her dog, Suds, ran behind Larry's chair and Larry yelled at it. "I think I flinched. I was looking at my hand because there was a lot of smoke. And I thought the gun had just went off and my hand blew off. I mean, I wasn't even looking at my husband. And Larry said to me, 'Hey. You shot me.'"

The jury did not believe her account.

But if Park's testimony is not to be believed, what might have happened?

Evidence suggests that while the shooting may or may not have been intentional, the fatal location of the bullet to Larry Park may have been a mistake.

She fired only one shot and then immediately sought help, according to the individuals present in the showroom outside the closed office, a fact that all her attorneys have contended is a strong argument that Larry's killing was not premeditated. The bullet struck Larry Park in his side, in his lower abdomen, not the location one would normally shoot to kill. A revolver tends to kick upward as it is shot, often hitting a spot higher than the intended target. That might suggest that Pati Park aimed at her husband's legs rather than at the more lethal areas of his chest or head. But by offering a defense that the shooting was completely accidental, Pati Park's trial attorneys abandoned the possibility that the shooting was a spontaneous act of passion. Frank Prantil hopes the federal court will allow him to get that possibility back.

Buried Secrets

LARRY PARK has been dead six years now. Against the objections of his Montana family, his wife had him buried in California. After Pati Park's conviction she lost all rights over her husband's remains. His family had his body exhumed and reinterred in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, within sight of his brother Bruce's property.

Pati remains incarcerated in Chowchilla. The Milpitas mansion, the Corvette dealership, the tanning salon, and the racing cars have all been sold away. Larry's share of the estate went to pay various attorneys' fees. Pati's share may be gone. Its value was estimated between $200,000 and $300,000 in cash by the estate's executor, but she is now relying on friends to raise money for her appeal. Since her conviction, she has not spoken to reporters about the details of her case. Her only post-trial statement was in a letter to the court to request leniency in sentencing, in which she wrote: "I feel that the loss of my husband is a punishment. I will have to suffer the rest of my life. Just to know that through one careless act he is gone forever. I can only hope that [the court] will forgive me." Aside from asking that she be given probation, she made only one other query of the court. Referring to Suds, the only other witness to Larry Park's shooting, she wrote, "Who will take care of my wee dog?"

Pati Park is still not free of reminders of her young rival, Shauna Marinus. Park has a subscription to North American Pylon, which regularly mentions Marinus' new triumphs on the racing circuit. Marinus, now 31, has since moved from autocross driving to touring-car racing, becoming the second woman to campaign an entire Speedvision World Challenge Touring Car season. "This is so exciting," Marinus told reporters late last year. "If you asked me a couple of years ago if I'd be in the World Challenge, I'd have said there was no way to make it possible."

As for Larry's relatives in Montana: "The family is not over it yet," says Lori Park. "Every day, something comes up. It's changed the whole family. I've requested several visitations of Pati but she's always refused. We don't think she's ever really accepted what she did, and so for us we feel there's a long way to go before we feel it's her day to walk free. "

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From the April 27-May 3, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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