On Feb. 8, 1986, exactly 26 years ago today, Detective Arleigh McCree and Officer Ronald Ball of the Los Angeles Police Department were killed while dismanting two pipe bombs discovered in a home in North Hollywood.
McCree was the head of the Los Angeles Police Bomb Squad Unit and was considered one of the world's leading experts on explosives and international terrorism, according to a Los Angeles Times profile.
According to the LAPD's website, both McCree and Ball were "expert bomb technicians who had contributed extensively to the research and development of numerous techniques for dealing with bombs that are still being utilized throughout the world today."
Both men were honored with a from the LAPD last year in a ceremony that recognized officers for acts of bravery resulting in injury or death in the past 90 years. (See attached YouTube video.)
"I cannot remember when two deaths have stirred the department as deeply," said former LAPD Police Chief Daryl Gates at their funeral, according to cammemorial.org. Gates, who at the time was the police chief of the LAPD, called McCree and Ball "heroes whose deaths have made us realize the awesome, awesome task of securing the peace in our communities."
Donald Lee Morse, the man who owned the home where the bombs were located, was later found guilty of murder.
Morse was a television and film makeup artist and police went to Morse's home at 6849 Vascoy Ave. that day to search for a pistol that had been used four days earlier to shoot an official of the Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Union, Local 706, of which Morse was a member, according to the L.A. Times. The pistol was not found and Morse was not charged in the shooting, but officers did discover two pipe bombs.
While examining the devices, McCree and Ball determined they were booby-trapped and moved all of the other officers away from the scene, according to the LAPD. But something went wrong and McCree and Ball were killed trying to dismantle the bombs.
Morse denied ever seeing the bombs before and said they were not his, according to numerous news reports. But a jury did not believe his story and he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on two counts of first-degree murder.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Dino J. Fulgoni told reporters it is was not necessary to prove that Morse intended to kill the officers, only that he had "malice aforethought" for someone, according to the L.A. Times.
"Since the bomb was planted in a place where it was not supposed to go off, we're dealing with delicate legal theories here. But we're very confident that we're on good legal grounds... If I place a bomb at 7th and Broadway, I don't know who I'm going to kill, but I'm certainly planning to harm someone," Fulgoni said.
Morse's conviction was later reduced by an appellate judge to second-degree murder in 1992, according to the L.A. Times. The reduction made him eligible for parole in 1994. There are no news reports that Patch could find online after the L.A. Times report in 1992 about his sentence reduction. Searches of inmates in the California penal system shows no record of Morse still being incarcerated, making it appear likely that he was released.
Patch discovered several online funeral notices in Florida for an African American man named Donald Lee Morse, who died in 2009. The notices identified the deceased as an African American California resident who was 59, the same age and race the Donald Lee Morse convicted of the bombing was.