Robert Mistriel, complicit in one of Kern County's most brutal and infamous murders, has been recommended for release by the Board of Prison Terms, his husband confirmed Wednesday.
David Flores said that Mistriel, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1983 in the stabbing and bludgeoning death of Ed Buck, then Kern County's director of human resources, will have served 35 years.
Lt. Eduardo Mazariegos, spokesman for Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, could not confirm the board's decision, but he verified that Mistriel, 52, appeared before the board Tuesday. He said the California Department of Corrections cannot confirm a prisoner's pending release until Gov. Jerry Brown signs off on the board's recommendation. That could take two weeks or more, he said.
"If you don't need to be here anymore, you need to go home," Mazariegos said.
"Emotions are just traveling in every direction," said Flores, who added that he met his husband in 2005 through Mistriel's late brother Mitch and married him at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione in 2015. "It's just a matter of pinning down a date."
Home in this case will be Stockton, said Flores, where a car and a part-time job at an animal shelter are waiting for Mistriel.
"He's going to get back to basics," Flores said.
Mistriel was granted his tentative release thanks in part to the laudatory chronos, or correctional officers' recommendations, "talking about what he did right" in custody, said Flores, who added that he was quoting Mistriel from their Wednesday morning phone call. "His medical evaluation went well too, so he's good to go."
Buck's 1981 murder was perhaps the best known case associated with the legend of the Lords of Bakersfield, an alleged loose association of prominent Bakersfield men who seduced and then were killed by much younger men, some of whom — as was the case with Mistriel — were minors.
Buck's grisly murder was physically carried out by 18-year-old Roy Matthew Camenisch, a friend Mistriel recruited for the killing. Camenisch was also convicted of first degree murder.
Mistriel was also a person of interest in another Lords of Bakersfield-associated homicide — that of Bakersfield hairdresser Tommy Tarver, who was bludgeoned to death in 1978. William Kenneth Manly Jr. of Santa Rosa, who was at Tarver's Beech Street house the night of his death — and, according to testimony, Mistriel may have been too — was found not guilty of the homicide at trial, although he was convicted of robbery and burglary. The homicide remains unsolved.
In his 1983 murder trial, which was moved from Kern County to Riverside County, Mistriel testified that he'd met Buck two years earlier, at age 15, in a Beach Park restroom, and he'd had dinner at Buck's home on one occasion -- using the opportunity to steal money and tools. But he hadn't slept with him, Mistriel said.
Mistriel testified that when Buck made a half-hearted attempt to blackmail him into a tryst, suggesting he could have Mistriel arrested for the burglary, Mistriel, by then 17, decided to teach him a lesson.
According to Mistriel's testimony, he and Camenisch laid out a plan to kill Buck one Friday night. On the pretense of going for a midsummer night's drive out to Lake Isabella, Mistriel chauffeured Buck out onto Bakersfield-Glennville Road, the northern extension of North Chester Avenue. Camenisch followed, unbeknownst to Buck.
At a properly secluded spot, Mistriel pulled over. Camenisch, high on LSD, pulled in front of them, turned off his headlights and got out. Mistriel got out and walked up to him -- attempting, he testified, to talk Camenisch out of it. Camenisch couldn't be swayed.
Then, with Mistriel supposedly sitting in Camenisch's car, where he wouldn't have to watch the carnage, Camenisch walked back to where Buck was still seated and, in the darkness, stabbed him, battered his head with a hammer — the same sort of implement thought to have been the Tarver murder weapon — and slit his throat. Having found the ground too hard to dig a grave, the two young men stuffed Buck's body in the car's trunk.
They parked the car in the garage of Buck's place on Pinewood Lake Drive, stole some things from the home, started a fire that eventually gutted much of the house, and got back to Camenisch's girlfriend's house in time to watch the last half of a midnight sci-fi movie, "It Conquered the World."
Investigators found Buck's charred body in the trunk of his incinerated car on July 20, 1981, three days after the murder.
Mistriel and Camenisch were arrested two days later.
Camenisch's case looked like a straightforward prosecution, but Mistriel -- ordered to stand trial as an adult -- posed a problem. Defense attorneys Robert Vandernoor and Robert Cook feared that the prominence of the victim, along with Mistriel's alleged links to the unsolved Tarver murder and sensationalized aspects of Mistriel's "profession," would make a fair trial unattainable in Kern County.
The case had already generated a tremendous amount of publicity: 72 percent to 79 percent of the public was familiar with the case, according to a poll, and 50 percent knew it had a homosexual aspect.
Superior Court Judge John M. Nairn agreed to move the trial to Riverside County, with Westra prosecuting the case.
Mistriel's alleged but unspecified role in Tarver's murder three-and-a-half years earlier resurfaced. That he was somehow involved in that earlier killing was presented by Camenisch's attorneys in court documents as undisputed fact.
Mistriel named several alleged adult lovers in painting a grim picture of his upbringing.
The son of an absent father and an alcoholic mother, he was molested by an older brother at the age of 6, endured his parents' divorce at age 8 and became involved in prostitution at age 11. By the time he was 13, he was working as a homosexual hustler on Hollywood's Sunset Strip and elsewhere.
While working as a prostitute out of the Rancho Bakersfield motel, Camenisch's attorneys said at their client's 1983 murder trial, Mistriel was "involved as a perpetrator or co-perpetrator" in Tarver's bludgeoning death four years earlier. Over the years, Mistriel himself has given different stories: At one time, he admitted having been present at Tarver's murder, but later maintained he was not.
In asking the court to unseal the Tarver files, Camenisch's attorneys claimed Mistriel had had sexual relations with both Tarver and Buck (charges Mistriel confirmed in a phone conversation years later), and that the earlier case might yield relevant clues to the more recent one. Dean Rice, deputy to then-Bakersfield City Attorney Richard Oberholzer, who later became a Superior Court judge, tried unsuccessfully to block their efforts to unseal the files.
The defense strategy bore little fruit, however, and on April 6, 1983, Camenisch pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He received life without the possibility of parole.
Three months later, on July 8, 1983, Mistriel was convicted of first-degree murder by a Riverside jury.
At Mistriel's Dec. 20 sentencing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge J. William Mortland described Mistriel as "totally amoral." Mistriel, by that time 19, got 31 years to life in prison, but with the possibility of parole.
He spent time at all but one California state prison, according to Flores. In a 2003 phone interview from Corcoran State Prison, he continued to maintain that he had had sex with Bakersfield men who were, in some cases, still in positions of power at the time.
Portions of this story were first reported Jan. 19, 2003.
Reach Robert Price at (661) 395-7399 or via Twitter @stubblebuzz.