Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joe Hunt: White Collar Psychopath

The Trial

The jury selection began on November 13, 1986, thanks to numerous delays that Joe's attorneys used to try to buy more time.

There had even been a bizarre incident that appeared to involve Karny. A dead man named Richard Mayer had been found in a motel, with a credit card slip signed by Karny. It bore all the marks of one of Joe's schemes: he'd described something very similar to try to discredit another member, but nothing could be proven and it failed to work. Karny had an alibi.

Joe Hunt in court
Joe Hunt in court

Yet there was another man dead, and that murder was never solved (although Joe would work hard in years to come to prove Karny was the killer).

When the trial began, Barens promised the jury they would hear from Joe Hunt himself; he would explain everything. This added suspense to the proceedings, especially as the members watched Joe scribble notes to his attorneys throughout the trial. When Karny took the stand, Joe stared at him coldly and then looked away. Despite the attempt at intimidation, Dean Karny turned out to be an effective witness. Horton describes him as drained and haunted, and clearly distraught over his involvement with Joe Hunt, but he told his story with great articulation. The defense had a difficult time trying to discredit him, although it was hard for some to believe that bright rich boys could be so dazzled that they would go along with murder.

On the other hand, Joe acted in a cavalier manner, which won him no allies.

The primary issue was whether Levin was dead or alive. There was plenty of evidence to indicate that he had expected to continue doing business from his home and had paid many recent bills. His mother claimed that he always called her, no matter where he was, but since June 6, 1984, she'd not heard from him.

Yet he was also a con man facing charges, and there was reason to believe he might have taken the opportunity to disappear.

Brooke Roberts testifies
Brooke Roberts testifies

When the prosecution rested, they weren't sure whether the jury was siding with them. They awaited the moment when Joe Hunt would take the stand in his own defense. His girlfriend Brooke Roberts, well-bred and credible, had told a story that had turned around everything said by Dean Karny, so now there was some doubt. What would Hunt add to — or take away from — his situation?

To everyone's surprise, the defense rested without putting Hunt on the stand and without explaining why.

The jury retired to deliberate, and it did not take them long. After two and a half days, they reached a verdict on April 22, 1987.

At the age of 26, Joe Hunt listened as the jury forewomen said that they had found him guilty of first-degree murder. They had also found special circumstances, which in California made him eligible for the death penalty.

Joe looked back at Brooke and her family and shrugged. He showed no other emotion. After the trial, he made several statements. One was that the whole thing was a "tragedy." He said that Ron Levin was alive and would one day be found. The verdict was "one of those unfortunate circumstances of compound error." What he would do now was what he did best: "keep my chin up."

After the sentencing phase of the trial, Joe got life in prison without parole. He immediately set about learning all he could for his appeal. He went on 60 Minutes with Ed Bradley and had a convoluted explanation for everything, including the seven-page list. None of it pointed to murder, he said, and he was confident that he would eventually be free.