Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cameron Brown Retrial; Closing Arguments, Part I

First, I need to point out that I've been spelling the defense co-counsel's name wrong for the entire case. I had it as Veretsian. It's Yeretsian! Judge Pastor did pronounce her name as if it started with a "Y" but I thought that was how it was pronounced. My error.

I end up driving into downtown because I couldn't find a parking spot at the Red Line Station in North Hollywood. The city replaced all the street parking around the Red Line with metered parking and the lot was full. When I get into downtown, I park in my usual $9.00 a day favorite lot on Broadway below 2nd Street. As I'm walking up Broadway, I see Ted a half-a-block in front of me. I walk as slow as I can as not to overtake him.

But inside the Criminal Justice Center, I'm unable to escape Ted. I won't go into detail today but that's a story for another time.

Once inside 107 other cases are waiting to be heard and the gallery is full of people I've never seen before. Patty and Ted have reversed rows. Ted is now in the first row and Patty is in the second. Ted corrals a cameraman waiting to film the closings and engages him in conversation. He's on the other side of the room so I don't know what's being said.

Mavis the court reporter first up. I really like Mavis. She's always taken the time to say hello or ask how I'm doing. I freely admit I'm a fan of the staff in 107.

Two tall, very professional looking women DDA's are chatting at the prosecution table. One of them says, "Murders are hard to settle [....] they want life (with parole) [...] not life." Another attorney, a tall man takes two older black women aside. They go into the ante chamber to talk. The same thing happens with an older black attorney with graying hair. He asks to speak to the several young women to my left and they step outside the courtroom.

The DDA's and other counsel chat at the prosecution table. It's 8:44 am and Pastor's courtroom is not starting on time. Two nicely dressed older black women enter. Their hair is perfectly coiffed and they're wearing nice jewelry. Lots more different people enter. Most are black but some appear to be Hispanic. Their dress ranges from casual jeans like me to nicely dressed.

I'm guessing that it's two different cases that are waiting to be heard instead of one.

8:47 am: The bailiff calls out to everyone to turn off their cell phones. Judge Pastor comes out and asks to see counsel. He apologizes for his tardiness. He didn't expect Spring Street to be closed. He must have had to go completely around the block to get into the underground parking garage. That would take a while.

JP: So what's the latest?

I think it's one DDA and two defense counsel who are speaking to Judge Pastor at sidebar.

Behind me in the third row is a pretty blond woman reading from a huge black binder, much like the binders I've seen DDA's file their cases in. She has a nice over sized black leather bag that I'm admiring and a black pantsuit on. I vacillate back and forth throughout the court day whether she is DA staff or a reporter. A colleague of hers comes through the inner doors of 107 and she calls out to him by name to come over.

Even though Mavis is at her desk, it sounds as if the discussion at side bar is off the record. The other clue is, Judge Pastor has not called any cases into the record. Judge Pastor then says to the bailiff, "Bring out Mr. Rankins." There's still quite a bit of chatter in the courtroom.

At 8:58 am, a black man wearing a blue prison uniform is brought out. I miss getting the man's first name. Markee? Rankins represented by Mr. White and DDA Ms. Hollingsworth. There's an significant development in the case. I don't get it all precisely. Ms. Hollingsworth is telling Judge Pastor that, "... another individual came forward who said another individual (told them?) and confessed." I believe she goes onto say, "This defendant, Mr. Rankins has been sitting in fail for something that [he did not do)." The DDA is moving to dismiss under 1385.

Judge Pastor says, "Anything Mr. White?" "I'll not say anything, your honor," he replies.

Judge Pastor then addresses the sheriff's in the room. He wants to know if it's possible to get a forthwith release from the courthouse. ".... But I would rather not have Mr. Rankins not even go back to county."

Several people in the gallery stood up and shouted with glee and clapped when the case against Mr. Rankins was dismissed. He had quite a few supporters in the gallery. This man was in jail for two years, accused of murder by several eye witness testimony that identified him as the guilty party. As I'm reading back over my notes, I'm remembering that the DDA said there was something about an investigation of another case where they were tape recording gang members and this new evidence came to light.

I do not know if the accused was released forthwith or if he did have to go back to county lockup to be released.

Judge Pastor asks to see counsel on the next case at sidebar.

The pretty woman in black behind me gets up to speak to Hum's assistant Susan Kim. Around this time, the accredited press shows up: Denise Nix from the Daily Breeze and Greg Risling from the Associated Press. We chat about the jury visit. There's even more people in the courtroom now.

There are three people in the front row who know Harris but I've never seen before. I later learn that two of them are Harris's aunt and uncle and the other older man may have been his father. Lisa thought she overheard one say it was a Harris family tradition to go to all of his closing arguments.

The defendant in the next case is brought out and the DDA's staff for this case enters 107 shortly after. Another reporter enters. It's Jack Leonard from the LA Times who also covered the opening statements. Judge Pastor states that he's received more requests from the media for taped coverage of the closings, LA Times and KABC. Hum and Harris both have no objections. Pastor authorizes the placement of non-intrusive cameras. There are also people here from Inside Edition. Judge Pastor will not allow the cameramen to set up in the back right corner by the jury box and he makes it clear that the jurors and the gallery is not to be filmed or photographed. The cameras are set up back in the clerk's desk area pointed at the podium and I try to get out of the line of sight just in case.

It doesn't appear that KTLA showed up but Inside Edition did. A bit later, two more cameramen show up to take photos. I should also note that Brown's parents are inside the courtroom. Lynne Brown is sitting next to Patty Brown in the second row. Mrs. Brown senior has a bit of a shake to her body (possibly Parkinson's?) and she walks with a cane. It appears her health has taken a turn for the worse since the first trial.

Katie is sitting beside me and I ask her if she can tell what color Craig Hum's suit is under the fluorescent lights. It looks like a grayish green against his white shirt. It's a stunning color on him. He's also wearing a dark olive green tie with tiny dots or hints of red in the pattern that compliment his suit perfectly. Terri Keith from City News shows up. Another tall, female reporter also shows up. (I think this is the Inside Edition staff.)

9:45 am the case is finally called. The jurors file into the courtroom. Judge Pastor had already read to them some of the jury instructions Monday after the site visit. Judge Pastor then goes into his explanation to the jurors the closing arguments and that it's not testimony.

Hum steps up to present his opening argument. (Hum will get two bites at the apple. The first argument and then the rebuttal argument.) He first thanks the jurors for their service.

CH: We've been together a little over two months now.

He tells them that they have "two duties." First to decide the facts from all the evidence from our visit to all of the sites; that's the first duty. Their second duty is to take those facts and decide whether or not the defendant is guilty.

Hum then explains to the jurors the charges against Brown.

CH: The defendant is charged with one court of murder.

He's also charged with two special circumstances; murder by means of lying in wait and murder by financial gain and that they will be required to determine if those special circumstances are true or not. To determine of Lauren was murdered three things need to be proven.

1. A human being was killed.

2. The killing was unlawful. (Hum explains that.)

3. The killing was done with malice and forethought.

Hum then goes onto explain malice and implied malice. Malice is the intention, unlawfully to kill a human being. From the California Penal Code, implied malice is:

"It is implied, when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing shows an abandoned and malignant heart."

Hum explain the law requirement for conviction of murder and also states there is expressed and implied malice in this case.

CH: But here we have both types of malice and we only have to have one (for conviction). [...] It really is that simple and that straight forward.

Hum goes over the aspects of first degree murder and second degree. He explains that there is no time required or no planning required for first degree. He then explains the first special circumstance of murder by lying in wait.

CH: Waiting for opportunity to act. Concealment of purpose. Take victim by surprise.

Hum then goes over the second special circumstance. That the murder was intentional. That it was carried out for financial gain, or maybe to end a financial obligation. Although these issues "need not be a dominant, substantial or significant motive."

10:00 am: Cameron Brown's mother leaves the courtroom and his father follows not long afterwords. They do not stay inside 107 for any more of the prosecution's closing argument.

Hum goes over the jury instructions and the credibility of the witnesses. He asks them to consider the "bias or interest or other motive of the defense witnesses [...] because some of the defense witnesses had a bias or interest. [...] Only two people witnessed what happened at Inspiration Point and one of them, Lauren is dead."

Hum reminds the jurors that Judge Pastor explained to them a bit about circumstantial evidence and that it is equal to direct evidence. He reminds the jurors that we've been together about two months now. "Lauren's mother testified over a-month-and-a-half ago. Approximately forty-five people testified in the people's case."

CH: One of the most important pieces of evidence in this case, the crime scene: Inspiration Point. You can look at photos, but until you get out there, until you see what Inspiration Point is like, you can't get a true feeling of what it's like at Inspiration Point. [...] It also shows you that the defendant's statements, of what (he said) they went on was a complete lie."

(Hum will call Brown a liar many more times in his opening closing and his rebuttal closing.)

CH: There's absolutely no way that things happened the way the defendant said it did. [...] There is no way that Lauren would have wanted to take a 1.5 mile hike! [...] There's no way that Lauren wanted to do that hike. There is no way that Lauren led that hike!"

Hum's voice is loud and impassioned as he's making these statements.

CH: That's his story. She wanted to go out there. [...] The defendant is lying and innocent people don't' need to lie.

I see that juror #6 is looking down towards her left. I wonder if she's crying.

Hum talks about the testimony of Sarah Key-Marer, and that "the defense tried to portray this as (relationship with Brown) as just a fling. [...] That's because they can't explain how he treated her. [...] He told his friends, (several of them) that he got her pregnant. [...] (He then) tried to get her deported!" Hum continues with his examples of what Brown did to Sarah.

CH: These actions shows just how vindictive the defendant is.

Hum then moves onto the child support and how Brown wanted custody for Lauren.

CH: He never even met her! [...] He claimed in court documents this is in Lauren's best interest. [...] How would he even know? He's never even met her.

Hum moves onto the hatred Brown had for his own mother and then the adoption. Hum states that Sarah told detectives the next day after Lauren died, that Brown had agreed at one time to the adoption.

CH: The defendant told her the adoption had to happen within 30 days or thins are going to get ugly.

The discussion about adoption was in February and he was getting married in March.

CH: Patty's 47. She's not going to have kids! [...] He's getting married and he wants this done before.

As Hum talks about this he also mentions that Patty wanted Lauren. As Hum says this Patty shakes her head. The bailiff immediately gets up and speaks to Patty about her actions. I'm told that the bailiff specifically asked her if she understood him. (Judge Pastor made it clear when he addressed the gallery before the jury was brought in that he did not want any type of actions from the gallery in response to the arguments by counsel. Patty appears to have not have heard Judge Pastor's instruction to the courtroom.) Afterwords, Ted turns around to speak to Patty who slightly shakes her head a second time in response to his questions.

CH: (When the adoption didn't happen in that time frame...) Now there's no way that he's going to give Sarah what she wants.

Hum goes over the statements that Lauren makes, that Greg is only her step father and Josh is only her step brother.

CH: The defendant made false exaggerations about Sarah, about child abuse. [...] The defendant lied. [...] He told Jan Meuler, that Lauren told him that Sarah kicked her in the kitchen [...] and grabbed her on the mouth and threw her down. [...] The defendant does this to torment Sarah through Lauren. [...] The behavior is calculated to hurt Sarah. [...] The defendant was using Lauren as a tool to get back at Sarah for messing up his life. [...] So Lauren was the perfect tool, to hurt Sarah.

Hum goes over Lauren's last day of life. "She's crying. she's crying all day," Hum continues. I see Sarah touches her nose with a tissue. Her eyes appear wet.

CH: Lauren is reaching out to her teacher, crying, as she was carried away. [...] The defendant was concerned how Patty found out but couldn't care less how Sarah found out.

Hum details Sarah's reaction (of hysterics and throwing up) verses Brown's reaction.

CH: The defendant never said one word to Sarah how Lauren died. [...] The defendant refused to tell her how Lauren died. [...] He was mocking, making fun of her (with the phone calls) Hellllooooo. [...] It just goes to sow ow much he hated her.

Hum then goes over the LAX incident that was recorded on video and audio. He details how Brown wrote out a statement.

CH: Who does that!!!! He wanted her arrested for a crime he totally fabricated! [...] Who does that! [...] He's nasty, vindictive, spiteful.

Hum describes Lauren, and mentions all the witnesses who described her as sweet and happy and liked to please.

CH: She was careful. She was cautious. She was not a tomboy. [...] She gets scared when she's carried too close to the pier at Huntington Beach! [...] Everyone who knew her said that. [...] All of them said, this is what Lauren was like. This is what she liked to do. [...] And who did the defense put up to contradict that? [...] Brown's mother. [...] Lauren didn't hike. (There's) testimony to that. [...] There's no way that Lauren would run down that slope. [...] We saw testimony and video of those girls throwing the golf balls.

Hum then goes over the witnesses who observed Lauren and knew her personality and the testimony of the teacher who observed the defendant with Lauren.

CH: All these people knew Lauren and all these people claim Lauren would never do what the defendant (said she) did. [...] the defendant just happens to have a disposable camera with him. (Something he's never done before.) [...] To show that Lauren is having a great time. [...] After playing on the beach [...] Lauren just takes off hiking. [...] The defendant claims that Lauren was leading on the hike. [...] She was 'much to energetic and he couldn't keep up.' [...] His family testified that he was this fit, outdoors man, yet, he's claiming that he couldn't keep up.

Hum then goes over the testimony of witnesses who observed him lead this climb up to Inspiration Point from the gully.

CH: The testimony of Mr. Omar completely contradicts the defendant's story. He (Mr. Omar) has no motive to lie. [...] Mr. Omar is not the only witness. [...] Mr. Witherow sees the defendant and Lauren on the road when hiking up to Portuguese Point and Lauren is trying to keep up. [...] He sees them three times. [...] Each time the defendant is in front and Lauren is behind. [...] So how is that Lauren leading the defendant and the defendant is having trouble keeping up? [...] The defendant is lying!

(It's now I realize that Brown and Lauren went up to Inspiration Point from the same trail that we went on, Sunday.)

CH: Again, putting aside ALL the evidence at the cliff, autopsy, the bio-mechanical evidence, [...] why would we believe him as to what he said happened there when he lied about everything that happened going up to Inspiration Point!!!!?? [...] Dr. Berkowitz testified that Lauren would not have initiated that hike, or continued to participate in a voluntary manner. It would not have happened. She said, "Absolutely not!" [...] Dr. Berkowitz found the hike really strenuous. [...] She thought that Lauren would not have initiated it and that the defendant was lying.

CH: If the defendant lied about everything else, then why would we believe him when he said that Lauren slipped and fell? It just didn't happen.

It's 11 am. Hum has argued about an hour and 15 minutes. The courtroom is very busy and bustling during the break. Ted comes over and corrals LA Times reporter Jack Leonard. He first asks Jack if he is related to Eric Leonard from KFI. Jack tells him no. Ted then proceeds to complain that the female KFI reporter at the first trial was (or still is) dating DDA Hum. (As if this is a terrible breach of a reporter's ethics.)

At 11:17 am, Hum steps back up to the podium.

CH: ...Other things the defendant told Detective Leslie. Lauren led the defendant out on Inspiration Point. They were going to look at the view. [...] Why didn't they stay on Portuguese Point? [...] Because there were lots of people there. [...] He told Detective Leslie he sat four feet from the edge. [...] A 120 foot drop. [...] That's the area that the defendant said Lauren was running around in. [...] (It's) different than what he told his friend. [...] Different from what he told Detective Brothers.

Hum then shifts to the defense bio-mechanical expert on the way Lauren went over the cliff.

CH: In none of the three different versions does the defendant say that's what happened! (The stumble fall; the trip; the somersault.) [...] (In the first version) ...he says he didn't see her go over. (In the second) he heard and "Oh," and he sees her feet going over the cliff. (In the third version) ...he sees Lauren's left side as Lauren goes over. He saw the back left part of her body with her arms out as she was going over the cliff.

Hum now moves onto the testimony of Mark Thompson, then moves back to inconsistent statements by Brown.

CH: He tells Detective Leslie he couldn't see her in the water. He tells Captain Curcio he looks over the cliff and sees Lauren in the water. [...] He spends five-and-a-half minutes on that 911 call. [...] The call where the defendant claimed he ust can't stop crying. [...] The chuckle on the tape to sunbathers that they will have to get dressed.

Hum then moves onto Brown's behavior at the scene.

CH: He takes his time to undress. He takes the time to kick off his wet underwear before he gets dressed. [...] They bring in the lawyer's wife's double's artner to say different people react differently. [...] Captain Curcio was so devastated, he had to be sent home!!! [...] The defendant wanted to talk about the election!!!! [...] His wet boots! It's all about him! [...] He's concerned about being filmed by the media, his car and his surfboards. [...] During the three hour interview, Detective Leslie testified he hadn't seen a reaction like this in his 10 year career in homicide. [...] He took no responsibility. [...] He blamed Lauren for her death. "It's not my fault. She's the one who wanted to be up there. I just followed her." [...] He volunteered to Detective Leslie that he has photos of her having fun. [...] Only three photos. Then nothing. (If she was having such fun on this hike, why no photos of her on the hike?)

Hum states that Brown told Lieutenant Erickson he heard a slipping sound.

CH: Deputy Falicon (testified) there was no evidence of that. [...] He never mentioned her name during the entire three hour interview. [...] (When the detectives confronted him about his lack of emotion) ...he say he cried on the 911 call.

Hum then moves onto Scott Simonson's testimony and his call to Brown after Lauren's death.

CH: (Scott testified that Brown said) "I can't dwell on it. I have to move on. I can't let it ruin my life. I have to move on." [...] When it's all about him, he's very emotional.

Hum goes over the lies he told Detective Lillienfeld about how the homicide detectives came to his home and stole his computers.

CH: Two days after the murder he's checking out surf reports.

Hum states they had clear evidence of Patty being the "driving force" behind the defendant getting Lauren away from Sarah. Hum then goes over the evidence under the bed with the cut out photos of Sarah's head, the black candles and the black figurines. "That's creepy."

CH: The defendant pointed to it (the point from where he was and where Lauren fell) from the archery range and described it to Brothers and Erickson. [...] "That sloping area" [...] described it and pointed to it from the archery range. They found no child size footprints. [...] All the physical evidence contradicts the defendants story because he's lying.

Hum moves onto Dry Hayes's testimony and the "cheap shot" that Dr. Oppenhaven (sp?) said about Dr. Hayes "is a complete lie. [...] If there was anything to that...." (they would have put on evidence of that.) Hum details Dr. Hayes testimony about Lauren's fall and explains that it had two conditions.

CH: (Dr. Hayes testified) #1. Lauren could not have fallen and had these injuries because they were not consistent with a fall. (Because of that) #2. she had to have been thrown.

Hum points out that Dr. Chinwah who performed the autopsy and Dr. Hayes both came to their conclusions independent of each other.

CH: There's only a limited area that Lauren could have left that cliff and ended up where she was.

Hum then goes over several defense witnesses (most I did not see) and the problems with their testimony. Brown's mother. Mr. Deitzler (sp?), Mark Thompson.

CH: Not a single woman came into court to say anthing nice about the defendant.

(It's not in my notes, but I remember this. I believe it's at this point Hum also points out that the defense did not call Brown's wife to the stand to testify on his behalf. When Hum says this, Patty, who is leaning forward with her elbows on the bench back in front of her, makes a gesture. She moves her hands outward, turning her palms up. When she does that, the bailiff has to come over and speak to her again.)

Hum then talks again about the defense expert, Dr. Oppenhaven. That she is a part-time medical examiner, not board certified in her specialty. She explained that she didn't prepare a report because "...That's where you have to be precise." (I believe it's at this point where Hum goes into more detail about past errors she had in other cases where she completely got the MOD ~manner of death~ wrong, and in one case where she did an autopsy, a murder would have gotten off scott free!)

Hum then moves onto Dr. Beckwith, and that the defense called him to agree with Dr. Oppenhaven. His areas of expertize were SIDS, birth defects or kidney tumors.

CH: Again, it goes to show how desperate they are. [...] Dr. Karim (sp?) testified about [....] He's not board certified; he doesn't do any testing. [...] "Hey, I see signs of disassociation. [...] This condition only lasts for 30 days so I can't test for it." [...] Dr. Siegmund. [...] It's not is particular area of expertise. Again. No Siegmund report.

Hum mentions the golf ball videos and states something to the effect that they were made to show Lauren. All throughout his opening argument, Hum is very passionate in his delivery.

CH: When you look at all the evidence together, one horrible inescapable conclusion. [...] This man threw his daughter off the cliff. He did it.

It's about 12:15 pm and Judge Pastor is asking everyone to be back in the courtroom by 1:15 pm.

To be continued in Part II....

I would like to commend accredited press reporter Denise Nix (who covers a ton of cases for the Daily Breeze at any one time) for taking the time to write out a detailed, five part report on the closing arguments. It's a very detailed account of the closings. I would have sworn she had a copy of DDA Hum's written notes. Well done, Denise, well done.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sprocket! I look forward to the next installment. Hard to believe that the jury could do anything but a guilty verdict - especially when you look at your videos and photos!