High-profile criminal attorney Barry Levin, who helped handle Erik Menendez's murder defense and more recently represented actor Robert Blake, was found dead Saturday of a single gunshot wound to the head at a veterans cemetery, officials said.
Levin, 54, appeared to have committed suicide, said FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin. Levin suffered from Gaucher's disease, said Ron Dorfman, a fellow attorney who spoke at a news conference Saturday evening at the cemetery.
Gaucher's disease is an inherited enzyme-deficiency disorder whose victims bleed and bruise easily. Levin was in constant, severe pain and had already had a shoulder replaced because of the disease, Dorfman said.
Levin was found slumped over the steering wheel of his vehicle about 2 p.m., McLaughlin said. The FBI was investigating because the death occurred at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, which is federal property.
Best Known for Role in Menendez Trial
Levin, a former city police officer, was one of the best-known attorneys in Los Angeles. Levin was a co-counsel for Menendez, who was sentenced to life without parole in 1996 with brother Lyle for killing their parents.
Attorney Leslie Abramson, who was Levin's co-counsel on the Menendez case, described Levin as "all heart for his clients."
"He had a tremendous understanding for people, especially veterans. He was a great guy with a fair amount of tragedy in his own life. He's been a colleague and a friend for many years, and a wonderful lawyer. He was always my hero."
Levin recently represented Blake, star of the Baretta TV series, whose wife's recent murder is unsolved.
Levin was also the lead defense attorney in a case stemming from alleged corruption in the city's police department.
He represented Sgt. Edward Ortiz who with two other officers was convicted in November of conspiracy and other charges alleging they framed alleged gang members. The convictions were overturned.
Friends Shocked About Death
Scott Ross, who worked as a private investigator on the Rampart and Blake cases, was shocked to learn of Levin's death.
"It totally blows me away. I can't see Barry as a quitter. He was a complex guy"
Ross described Levin as a "nice guy," who went to great extremes in recent years to care for his mother, who suffered from dementia. Levin photographed everything in his mother's Chicago home before bringing her to Los Angeles, Ross said, where he recreated her surroundings so she wouldn't be confused.
In May, attorney Harland Braun brought Levin into the Blake case saying his police experience would be valuable in keeping on top of the investigation. Braun said he was stunned and knew nothing of Levin being ill.
"He was always optimistic. We talked every three days. I can't believe a suicide — he was such a fighter."
Phone calls to the Los Angeles National Cemetery were unanswered, and a message left with the Veterans Affairs department was not immediately returned.
Levin wrote about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and about defending Vietnam veterans with the disorder. He served as an Army staff sergeant and paratrooper and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
His Bronze Star commendation said on March 20, 1968, "without regard for his own personal safety, he moved 50 meters under heavy enemy fire to a river where he and another soldier lifted a wounded man from the water so that he could be treated and evacuated."
Levin is survived by a wife, Debbie, and two daughters.