SAN JOSE,CALIF. — SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There's no doubt that shortly before midnight on May 10, 1988, someone bit off half of Officer David J. Storton's ear.
But the debate over which defendant may be to blame -- Shawn or Jonathan Blick -- has created double trouble for Santa Clara County's courts.
The problem: The brothers Blick, 21, of Palo Alto, are identical twins.
Both are charged with mayhem, attempted burglary, assaulting a police officer and aggravated mayhem. The latter charge carries a possible life sentence. The charges stem from a scuffle outside an apartment complex in which the twins allegedly hit the San Jose officer and one twin -- no one seems certain which -- allegedly bit Officer Storton.
In theory, the law says the twins can be equally responsible because anyone who helps in a crime can be found just as guilty as the actual perpetrator. But lawyers on both sides agree that, as a practical matter, there is a world of difference between a biter and an abettor when it comes to sentencing.
"Obviously this wasn't done simultaneously by two persons," said Chris A. Carroll, a defense attorney who represents Shawn Blick. "All of us have agreed that the biter should get a bit more jail time than the non-biter."
There are already indications that dueling defense strategies could turn twin against twin in a case that has prompted lawyers to distinguish their clients as "the biter" and the "non-biter."
"Each twin has an interest in saying, 'Oh, it was the other fellow who was the biter, the other identical twin,' " Mr. Carroll said at a recent hearing.
Court records say that Officer Storton was moonlighting as a security guard the night of the scuffle. In his report, Officer Storton said two people punched and kicked him about 30 times in a struggle for his gun. One pummeled the officer's head while the other directed blows to his groin, the report said. Officer Storton then described what followed:
"I was now just trying to endure, because I did not want to have to shoot anyone, and I knew help was on the way. I felt great pain from the punches and kicks and I was beginning to tire. . . .
"The first suspect then leaned over and bit into my right ear, causing excruciating pain, but I had to resist the urge to reach for my ear because he was still trying for my gun."
A resident broke up the scuffle, and the attackers then fled with two girls in a blue Cadillac, according to a police report.
During a preliminary hearing last year, Officer Storton, who underwent reconstructive surgery after attempts to reattach the severed portion of his ear failed, identified Jonathan Blick as the man who sank his teeth into his ear lobe.
At the time of the crime, one Blick had shoulder-length hair, the other a crew cut. When they surrendered to police three days later, both twins had closely cropped hair.