Man claims childhood abuse led him to murder renowned UAF scientist

Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2000

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A Pennsylvania man on trial for strangling a renowned scientist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said Thursday he was responding to an aggressive sexual advance that reminded him of the time he was molested by a neighbor when he was 12 years old.

Paul Cain, 28, claims he killed 73-year-old Stanley Runcorn in self-defense. Cain testified that he lost control when the scientist pushed him down on a bed in a downtown San Diego hotel room.

Cain, a black belt in karate and competitive kickboxer, then battered and strangled Runcorn, a geophysicist who was in San Diego to organize an academic conference for the Vatican.

''I wasn't thinking at the time. I was in a black rage,'' he said. ''My ears were buzzing. I didn't know what was happening.''

Prosecutors contend Cain targeted Runcorn for robbery because the elderly scientist was gay and appeared to be an easy target. His wallet and credit card were never found.

Cain's lawyer, Robert Howell, is arguing that the defendant acted in self-defense and out of confused emotions caused by a troubled childhood.

Cain testified that as a child in York, Pa., an adult neighbor pushed him down on a bed and molested him. The man, a prominent local attorney, denies the allegation.

This is the third trial for Cain. A jury deadlocked in 1997. He was convicted at a second trial eight months later and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

An appeals court overturned that verdict, ruling that the trial judge allowed too much testimony about previous allegations of violence by Cain, including claims by both his ex-wives that he had a stormy temper and frequently beat them.

Cain, who choked up at times, testified he met Runcorn at a downtown coffee shop and accompanied him to his hotel room so they could exchange addresses. The scientist had offered to be a reference to help the unemployed Cain find a job.

After the murder, Cain sold or gave away his belongings and fled on his motorcycle to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he lived for two months under the name ''Jimmy Spumoni.'' Authorities said he was involved in several fights before Mexican police arrested and deported him.

During his testimony, prosecutor Andrea Freshwater, noting Cain's martial arts training, questioned whether he ever felt any threat from Runcorn.

''You can't get away from this 73-year-old man?'' Freshwater asked.

''If he would have fallen down, I would have left the room,'' Cain responded.

Runcorn, then a visiting professor at UAF, was one of the developers of the theory of continental drift. He had headed the physics department at Newcastle University in England and served as an adviser to Pope John Paul II.

Runcorn published 27 books and dozens of scholarly articles. He was considered one of the world's leading experts on plate tectonics, the field of study that focuses on how the continents formed.

Closing arguments were expected to begin Friday.

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