On March 10, 1983, 66-year-old Dorka Lisker was beaten with a Little League trophy and then stabbed in the back with a pair of steak knives in her home in Los Angeles, California.
Paramedics were summoned to the scene by Dorka’s adopted son, Bruce; she was taken to a hospital, where she died. Bruce claimed that he called the paramedics after seeing his mother’s injured body through a window.
Police immediately suspected that the 17-year-old Bruce had committed the crime himself. He had a history of drug addiction (in fact, he was high on methamphetamine when he had called the paramedics), had an extremely contentious relationship with his mother, and had previously been convicted of vandalism for throwing a screwdriver at a driver who had cut him off. Authorities suspected that Dorka had caught Bruce stealing money from her purse in order to buy drugs, and that Bruce had killed her in a subsequent struggle.
Detective Andrew Monsue told prosecutors that the evidence against Bruce included blood spatter on his clothes, a bloody footprint in Dorka’s bathroom that was said to belong to him, and the absence of nearly $150 that Dorka was carrying. Additionally, Monsue concluded that Bruce could not have seen his mother from outside the house because of glare and obstructions. Bruce then was arrested.
After his arrest, Bruce insisted he was innocent and demanded a lie detector test. The test examiner said Bruce exhibited deception in his responses to queries about the murder, and Bruce was held in custody pending trial.
A jail-house informant who met Bruce in pre-trial detention struck a deal with prosecutors to testify that Bruce had confessed to the murder in exchange for a reduction of his own sentence.
At the urging of the Lisker family lawyer, who assured him that he would be sentenced as a juvenile if he pled guilty to second degree murder, Bruce withdrew his claims of innocence and admitted that he had murdered his adopted mother. The prosecutors, however, withdrew the plea bargain and decided to prosecute Bruce for second degree murder as an adult after psychologists found Bruce unremorseful and therefore unfit for treatment as a juvenile.
At trial, Bruce’s defense attorney attempted to argue that the real killer was Mike Ryan, another drug user who was an acquaintance of Bruce’s, but that defense was excluded by the judge because there was no evidence that placed Ryan near the scene of the crime.
On November 21, 1985, Bruce was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life.
In 2003, after being denied parole multiple times, Bruce Lisker filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department against Monsue, the detective who investigated his case, and used funds he had inherited after his father’s death to pay for a reinvestigation of the case.
The complaint produced no official action, but reporters at the Los Angeles Times picked up on the story and began pursuing their own investigation.
In 2005, the supposedly stolen $150 was found listed in the evidence report detailing the contents of Dorka’s purse. Further, a telephone call was identified that placed Mike Ryan near the scene of the crime.
The investigation disclosed that Monsue had never sent the clothing that was allegedly blood spattered or the shoe print for testing. When sent for testing, it was determined Monsue's assertions were false--there was no blood on the clothing and the shoe print left in Dorka’s skull did not match the print of the shoe worn by Bruce on the day of the crime.
On August 8th, 2009, a judge vacated Lisker’s conviction on the grounds that it was based on false evidence and inadequate legal defense and five days later Lisker was released from prison pending retrial.
On September 21, 2009, prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges. Lisker filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles that was settled in January 2016 for $7.6 milion.