Saturday, December 13, 2014

Here's What Happened to "Punkin Pie," Lana Clarkson's Former "Friend"

 Punkin Irene Elizabeth Laughlin, aka "Pie"
testifying for the defense in Spector 1, 2007.

Back in 2007, over a period of about six months, I attended the first Phil Spector murder trial. It's also when I started Trials & Tribulations. 

Spector was on trial for second degree murder in the death of Lana Clarkson. Clarkson died in the early morning hours of February 3, 2003. Clarkson had met Spector at the House of Blues on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, where she was working security in the exclusive V.I.P. Foundation Room. After the club closed, Spector convinced Clarkson to come back to his Alhambra mansion for a drink. Just a few hours later, she ended up dead. She was shot through the mouth while sitting in a chair in the foyer, her purse on her shoulder, as if she was waiting to leave.

Clarkson, an actress and model in the 80s, was just starting to get back on her feet after breaking both her wrists in a freak accident a year earlier when her life tragically intersected Spector's.

Witnesses testified that Lana had a "best friend" who called herself Punkin' Pie, or just Pie, although her legal name was Irene Elizabeth Laughlin.  In December 2000, the LA Weekly featured a story about Pie, a self-made music promoter who helped struggling artists get their start.

Lana's "best friend" didn't testify for the prosecution. She did what any best friend would do. She testified for the defense, telling the jury that best friend Lana was so despondent, that days before her murder, Lana told Pie she was going to get a gun and kill herself.

I'll never forget the above image of "Pie" on the witness stand, with that big gold necklace bouncing back and forth between her large ta-ta's. 

The first trial ended in a hung jury. Pie was conspicuously absent from the second trial, although many witnesses did talk about Pie and how she and Lana were "best friends." At the end of the retrial, Spector was convicted of Clarkson's murder on April 13, 2009.

A couple of years ago, there was a short blurb in Screen Daily that a company, Vesuvio Entertainment was making a movie All Six Feet, about the relationship between Pie and Lana Clarkson. A few days later, The Daily Beast had a longer piece about the upcoming movie and Pie's spin on her friend's death.

It's interesting that Vesuvio Entertainment was started by Greg H. Sims, another supposed "friend" of Lana Clarkson who also testified for the defense.  Back in March 2013, Sims spoke with radio host Larry Elder about the film project that was coming out in six weeks. If the film was ever released under that name, I can't find it at IMDb.

Fast forward to December 10, 2014. I'm on Facebook, and I get an instant message from my friend Toni, who tells me that Pie is on the Dr. Phil show, presenting herself as a "cougar." Although the show had already started, I immediately hit record on my DVR. 

I watched the episode a few days later. It was quite sad. There was 58 year old Pie, her plump body splayed out on her bed like ... (words escape me), extolling the benefits of being a "cougar" and dating a man 34 years her junior. 'Nuff said. 

Phil Spector Wikipedia Page
Lana Clarkson Website
Lana Jean Clarkson Wikipedia Page
Punkin Pie Facebook Page

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christinan Newsom Case - Vanessa Coleman Denied Parole


David brings us updates on two events related to Vanessa Coleman's second trial. Sprocket

Vanessa Coleman Denied Parole
David In Tennessee

On Wednesday, December 10, 2014, Vanessa Coleman was denied parole for Facilitation of the rape-murder of Channon Christian. The torture-murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom took place on the night of January 6-7, 2007. Coleman was convicted a second time in a retrial on November 20, 2012. Judge Blackwood sentenced her to 35 years in prison on February 1, 2013.

Why was she up for parole so soon? Vanessa Coleman was convicted of facilitation, not murder. Since she was arrested in January 2007 and remained in custody, Coleman is credited with nearly eight years in prison and is eligible for parole under Tennessee law. 

In a unanimous vote after a hearing lasting 90 minutes, five members of the panel rejected the application. One member was absent. Another was too new to the panel to vote. 

Vanessa Coleman's defense at both trials was she was afraid of the others, one of whom was her boyfriend, and was herself a prisoner in the death house. 

A major question throughout is why Coleman did not free Christian and flee on two occasions when she was alone with her inside ringleader Lemaricus Davidson's house. When questioned at the hearing, Coleman said; "I'm currently in the appeal process, and I have spoken to my lawyer, and it was wise for me not to speak."

Coleman's appeal was rejected by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals a few days before and the Tennessee Supreme Court is unlikely to even look at the case after two trials. 

The main evidence against Coleman was a diary entry a few days after Christian and Newsom were tortured, raped (both of them), and murdered. Coleman wrote of her "adventure in the Big T.N," and how much "she loved her life." When questioned about this at the hearing, Coleman answered "That statement had nothing to do with the case, sir, and that's all I can say."

Davidson was sentenced to death. His brother and Coleman's boyfriend, Letalvis Cobbins, was sentenced to life without parole. Cobbins' friend, George Thomas was sentenced to life with possible parole after 50 years. 

Here is a report from WATE, Knoxville's ABC affiliate.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"December 7, 1941, A Date Which Will Live In Infamy..."

American Experience Facebook Photo

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

Today, our nation gives thanks. Wikipedia has interesting information about the roots of Thanksgiving in the US, Canada and other countries.

Six months ago, I did not know if my husband, "Mr. Sprocket" would survive his heart attack. Today, Mr. Sprocket (the head cook at our house) will be fixing an organic turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, string beans and a "no corn," cornbread. I am very thankful that he is doing well, back to work and healthier than he's ever been.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of T&T's readers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Michael Gargiulo Preliminary Hearing - June 21, 2010, Day 1, Part I

Michael Thomas Gargiulo

UPDATE 11/26: edited for spelling, formatting, clarity; added referenced case links

This is a synopsis of the preliminary hearing conducted in the Michael Gargiulo case on Monday, June 21, 2010. Since I only started covering the case since 2012, I did not attend the prelim. Over the next two months, I will be posting an abbreviated account of the testimony and evidence presented against Gargiulo. Sprocket

Gargiulo Case QUICK LINKS
Preliminary Hearing QUICK LINKS

Monday, June 21, 2010
The Michael Thomas Gargiulo preliminary hearing begins in Dept. 108, Judge Michael Johnson presiding.

The parties state their appearances for the record. DDA Marna Miller for the people. Defense attorney Charles L. Linder for the defendant. He is assisted by Abraham C. Linder, law clerk. Also representing Mr. Gargiulo is defense attorney Dale Rubin.

Before the first witness is called, there is subpoenaed record response that was taken care of. Next, the court outlines how the scheduling will go: Day by day, and a full a day as possible. Court will be dark Wednesday afternoon, June 23.

The court asks if there are any other issues. Dale Rubin (who is assigned the penalty phase of the potential trial) tells the court that he will not be present every day. However, he is here to address the issue of the people’s 1101(b). The parties/court will be working off of the amended felony complaint filed November 12, 2009. The court is ready to proceed. The court reviewed the 1101(b) motion. There was no written response to the motion by the defense.

Rubin tells the court that he has been in contact with the DA, but that it has been difficult for him to get a response together. He did not know that some witnesses would be called today.  He had asked for additional time to respond. The defense objects to the 1101(b) evidence coming in. Rubin asks the court to look at People vs. King, a 2010 ruling where there are prior uncharged acts in which the defendant denies that they occurred or that he’s involved.  Rubin also states that he spent many hours trying to find if there was case law about submitting 1101(b) evidence in a prelim. In his 35 years in practice, Rubin tells the court he’s “... never had it happen where it’s been asked to do it at a prelim.” Rubin argues that the problem is the DA’s burden is just probable cause. Rubin continues to argue several other points. Rubin admits that the defense is not prepared to cross examine these witnesses if they take the stand today. They have not done the necessary investigation into the 1101(b) (uncharged crimes).

DDA Miller responds. She points out that discovery for the 1101(b) was provided to the defense over a year ago.  In May, DDA Miller notified the defense she would be presenting the 1101(b) evidence at the preliminary hearing. She filed her motion well in advance of the prelim hearing date and served both counsel on June 9 via email. Although Mr. Rubin states he has been in contact with her, she never received a response from either counsel. “Based on my moving papers and based on the facts and the law as I have stated in my moving papers, this is exactly the type of case that 1101(b) does come in. It does show motive. It does show a common plan or scheme.”

The court asks the people the names of the specific 1101(b) witnesses.

Ashley Green, Dorothy Hass, and Maria Gurrola, a DNA representative from Chicago.  The people will also be Prop 115‘ing some of the officers on the scene at that (Chicago) murder. There is a bit more discussion about which witnesses will be Prop 115‘ing.

The court asks, “Why is it necessary to present these witnesses at the preliminary hearing? What’s the purpose? Is it to establish probably cause? Is it to memorialize their testimony or what?”

DDA Miller replies, “Well, I think it’s part and parcel for both the memorialization of their testimony. ..I think their testimony is extremely helpful to the trier of fact, whether it’s you or a jury at the future date. I think it’s very important to hear in terms of context.”

DDA Miller is not sure how much the court wants regarding what they have on the LAPD case, but she feels it’s important for the court to know the events surrounding that case, since there is a time period between the LAPD murder and the LASD murder.

The court asks if there’s anything else from either the people or defense. Mr. Rubin has one last argument to present. Mr. Rubin explains that when he learned that there was going to be 1101(b) evidence presented he immediately contacted DDA Miller. Rubin states, “... I’m sorry. I have a life. I had three graduations and children moving back from college in this time period, beginning of June, very busy. I wanted to get started on it. ... The response that I got was, ‘You’ll get that information when you get the motion.’“

Rubin states that he researched case law to see if this type of evidence could even be admitted at a preliminary hearing. Rubin could not find a case on point, whether this type of evidence is or is not admissible at a prelim.  Rubin adds that they did not get the 10 court days notice on the motion.

Judge Johnson rules. ‘I am not aware of any authority that precludes the introduction of 1101(b) evidence at a preliminary hearing, so I will permit it.”  The court points out that the admission of this kind of evidence at the prelim is not a binding ruling as to trial, so it’s not a final resolution of the issue for trial. Judge Johnson rules that an adequate showing has been made for some of the proffered evidence for the preliminary hearing. The court then outlines, the specific testimony that will be allowed and what will be excluded.

 The burglary and murder of Tricia Pacaccio, that’s admitted as to identity, common modus operandi and common motive with counts 5, 3, and 1.

The assault with a taser upon Dorothy Hass from December 2001, not charged, exclude the conduct in part as dissimilar. Not the same kind of motive; not the same kind of modus operandi. It appeared to be some kind of disagreement about taking care of animals. Quite different from the charged crimes.   However, admit the defendant’s admission to Dorothy Hass regarding the Ellerin and Pacaccio crimes.

Incident regarding Ashley Green in 2002. Court admits it regarding identity, modus operandi and motive because of similarities with counts 1, 3, and 5.

Conduct attributed to the defendant regarding use of a van that is similar to counts 1, 3, and 5.
The stalking and assault upon Maria Gurrola from 2004, only that portion of the evidence regarding the defendant’s use of a van, the defendant being seen in a white van that was similar to one described in counts 1, 3, and 5. Also admit the evidence of the relationship between the defendant and Maria Gurrola by way of background to explain why the defendant was in the vicinity and why she had an eye on him. Things of the fact that they dated each other, that he asked to marry her, that he followed her, that sort of thing.  The issue of the defendant breaking into her house and Gurrola getting a protective order, that is not similar.

Admissions that the defendant made about knowing forensics, that he knew how to kill people and cover it up, that if Gurrola tried to leave him, he would make it personal, that can come in.  All of that is relevant to counts 1, 3 and 5 as well as the Paccaccio uncharged incident.

Those are the courts tentative rulings. The court offers each side to address his rulings. DDA Miller addresses the 2004 Maria Gurrola, stalking and assault incident. She argues that the defendant, during the Perkin’s Operation, made comments that these women didn’t have protective orders.  Judge Johnson replies, “All right.”

Charles Lindner asks, “Is the court inclined to change its mind?” Judge Johnson replies, “Well, it depends on what you say.”  Lindner then begins to argue that this evidence should not come in at the prelim.

“With respect to the comments allegedly made by the defendant, these were after he was represented by counsel. He was taken to the EL Monte Jail surreptitiously by sheriffs and put in a cell with a couple of deputy sheriffs pretending to be prisoners; did not receive Miranda. There are 5th and 6th amendment issues of serious substance with the conduct of law enforcement on this particular occasion.”

Lindner continues to argue that the defendant’s 5th amendment rights were violated. “I think the court has to hear the constitutional proffer first as to why this should come in, before it comes in at all. We’re very vehement about obeying the constitution. I would ask the court to keep its former ruling.  As far as the defendant being impeached in one of his statements, the defendant isn’t going to be called at this preliminary hearing, so the fact that this woman had a restraining order against him when he said there were no restraining orders against him has no evidentiary weight at all.”

Judge Johnson replies, “All right. Well, the tentative ruling stands; again, excluding the issue concerning Maria Gurrola.” Judge Johnson explains further his ruling on other testimony, stating it’s not really an admission but it’s conduct that he was seen driving a van.  Judge Johnson closes this issue by adding, “That’s the ruling. We’ll proceed on that basis. Is it clear to everyone?”

Then Judge Johnson reiterates his previous statement that these rulings are not binding for trial. “I just don’t see that there’s a sufficient showing at this point of the preliminary." Judge Johnson then asks about the Perkin’s Operation and if there would be such evidence presented. DDA Miller informs the court that there will be, and presents the case law, Illinois v. Perkins, and that it allows for this exact kind of situation.

DDA Miller adds, “While defense claims that it’s a violation of his 5th amendment right. Number one, he had only been arrested at that point on the Santa Monica case. The El Monte case and the LAPD case were not filed until much later on. Almost two months later he was arraigned on other additional charges.” DDA Miller asks the court and counsel to look at Illinois v Perkins, as well as People v. Plyer, which references Massiah in situations like this and how it’s offense specific. DDA Miller adds that the seminal case would be Maine v. Moulton.

The court instructs the prosecution to give the defense a list of witnesses that they expect to call the following day by the end of each day. If there are issues of this kind, like the admissibility of a statement, it should be addressed before the witnesses are called on that day.

Lindner tells the court that he and his co counsel Mr. Rubin, need to make a record regarding confrontation. Confrontation is not a preliminary hearing right. The court ruled on that previously when it denied the defense the ability to find witnesses. The defense has had no opportunity whatsoever to see any of these witnesses to conduct investigations.

Lindner continues, “My fear, and I’m anticipating this, in case this case eventually does reach the U.S. Supreme Court, is that the justices will consider our essentially ineffectual cross-examination at this stage to have supplied the opportunity to cross-examine, when in fact we were not allowed by the people or the ... and because of the court’s ruling, to investigate the very issues on which we have to cross examine.”  Lindner wanted to preserve that issue.

Lindner moves to exclude witnesses from being inside the courtroom. Potential witnesses are excluded.

The first witness is called.

To be continued.....