Cameron Brown, at his second trial in 2009.
Short Case Background
Sometime after 12 Noon, on November 8th, 2000, Cameron Brown picked up his four-year-old daughter Lauren Sarene Key from preschool earlier than usual.
Lauren Sarene Key, 4.
It was a regularly scheduled, court ordered visitation. Hours later, Lauren ended up dead at the bottom of Inspiration Point, a dangerous 120 foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Side view of Inspiration Point where Lauren fell.
Brown was arrested three years later on November 16th, 2003 and charged with 187, felony murder. He's been in the custody of LA County Sheriff's ever since. He's had two trials that ended in hung juries and is awaiting his third trial. The first trial was held in the Torrance courthouse and ended in August 2006. The second trial was in downtown, Judge Pastor's courtroom that ended October 2009. In each trial, every juror voted guilty, however they could not agree on the degree of Brown's guilt (first degree, second degree or involuntary manslaughter).
The prosecution alleges Brown, a baggage handler for American Airlines, threw his daughter off a cliff for several reasons: he hated Sarah Key, Lauren's mother; he never wanted children --tried to pressure Sarah into an abortion-- and for financial gain. The monthly court ordered child support, amounting to 40 percent of his salary was crippling him.
The defense contends that this was a tragic accident and Brown did not kill his child. Brown's defense says he loved his daughter and wanted to spend more time with her. The defense presented in his previous trials has been that he was sitting down near the cliff edge when Lauren accidentally fell to her death.
On the last day of her life, little Lauren Key started crying inconsolably when she learned that her biological father would be picking her up from school. Her continued crying so alarmed her teachers that after a few hours, they called Sarah so that Lauren could talk to her. It didn't appear to help. A few minutes after that conversation, Sarah decided to ignore the court order and take her daughter home. When she called the school back to tell them she was coming to get Lauren, she was told it was too late. Brown had arrived early for his daughter and they were already gone.
Friday, July 27th, 2012
There was a pretrial hearing in the Cameron Brown case in Judge Pastor's courtroom this morning. I had been keeping my eye on this case for some time, watching the LA County Sheriff's Inmate Information Center for the next time Brown was scheduled to appear in court. I covered the second trial, but became ill during the start of the defense case and missed many of their key witnesses. I have always been disappointed that I wasn't able to provide for T&T readers both sides of that trial. Sprocket.) This case was originally scheduled to go for it's third trial in late February 2011, but right before that, Dr. Conrad Murray did not wave his right to a speedy trial, and that caused a massive hiccup in Judge Pastor's schedule.
On my walk up Broadway from the parking lot, construction workers were putting the finishing touches (more benches) on the section of Grand Park behind the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. I ran into DDA Craig Hum in the building lobby and rode the elevator up to the 9th floor with him. (Hum was the sole prosecutor on the past two trials and is still on the case.)
On January 20th of this year while covering the Lazarus case, I had bumped into Hum in the elevator bay and asked him if Brown was being represented by a public defender. Hum told me that the court appointed Aron Laub. In the first trial his defense attorney was Mark Geragos. Second trial was Mark's long-time associate Pat Harris.
When I enter Dept. 107, I get my first glimpse of Aron Laub, who is in a jovial, yet respectful conversation with DDA Hum. There is a new sheriff at the deputy box speaking to the tiny female sheriff, Parra. Mrs. Benson, Judge Pastor's clerk is not here today. (I'm hoping she wasn't part of the recent layoffs at the end of June.) Mavis Theodorou is the court reporter, already working at her desk. I really like Mavis. She's always been kind to me and she's got a very pleasant voice.
Laub is wearing a light gray suit. It goes well with his salt and pepper mustache and nicely trimmed beard. Cameron Brown's wife, Patty Brown and her brother Ted Kaldis are not here. I'm not surprised about that. They probably know when this case will get closer to trial, and if there were no important motions to be argued, why drive in from Ventura County (if Patty still lives there).
There are several other attorneys waiting in the well area of the court for their cases to be called. A man with weathered-looking tattooed arms, who looked like he just came off a difficult bicycle ride, came into Dept. 107 carrying a backpack and headed for the back door beside the jury box. The attorneys in the well all seemed to know who he was, and at first I thought he was a juror on a current trial. But several minutes later he emerged from the back area of the courtroom. His hair was combed and he was nicely dressed in pants, long sleeved shirt and a tie. The three women attorneys in the well are chatting with him and I realize that he's an attorney also.
Brown is finally brought into the courtroom from the jail area wearing an orange jumpsuit. His starting-to-gray light brown hair is long, falling down his back to about in between his shoulder blades. His mustache and beard reminds me of the ZZ Top band members. I had heard from a reporter at the Raul Lopez press conference that Brown looked like a wild man, and one of the reasons I wanted to drop in on this case was to see Brown in person, three years later. I had hoped that artist Thomas Broersma might be able to come to this hearing so he could sketch the defendant but unfortunately for me and fortunately for Thomas, he's been busy with several projects.
Before the hearing starts, Brown appears to be going over some papers with his counsel. Judge Pastor takes the bench and wants to know where this case stands. Loeb wants to set the next hearing date for September 21st, 2012. He has two other big cases he's involved in. One in Department 102, Judge Marcus' courtroom, the "Subia (sp?)" case and the other in Department 108, Judge Otha's courtroom the "Burns" case. Loeb tells Judge Pastor that both judges have indicated they will not allow any more continuances on those cases. The case in Dept. 108 had 8 defendants but it's now down to four, and it's a multiple event case. The case in Dept. 102 is three years old and has two defendants.
Judge Pastor inquires about the age of the other cases, and how they compare to this case. I believe Judge Pastor clarifies, meaning how long from the actual crime to today. Loeb responds he thinks Brown is the oldest case (the superior court? in Judge Pastor's court?). Judge Pastor replies that they have older cases (cold cases) that occurred in the 1980's. Pastor asks the prosecution where they stand.
Hum states that his trial schedule has become more complicated as well.
Judge Pastor wants to keep the trial on a shorter leash, but Loeb asks for 120 days. He states something to the effect of, '..once it gets to zero of 60, the pressure is on both counsels to be prepared." The pressure is on him and on his five other cases, and apparently, both of those other two cases mentioned are supposed to start sometime in September.
Judge Pastor then outlines the concerns that he has regarding his upcoming schedule. Without naming names, Pastor indicates that in January 2013, he has a big case, a three-month case scheduled to begin. Judge Pastor also mentions something about how they do things in the state of Massachusetts, "out-of-town attorneys" that come in his courtroom stating they want a specific date to start a trial, and that's not the way things work here, in his courtroom.
Hum tells the court, "My concern is, this was not a case to go over the holidays."
Judge Pastor then addresses Brown about waiving his right to a speedy trial and to return to court on September 21st. Brown replies in a clear voice, "That's a fine day. That's my birthday." Judge Pastor inquires again, "Do you want it on that date?" "Sure," Brown replies.
Judge Pastor orders the court calendar to be put at 0-120 on September 21st. Right after that, Brown speaks up and addresses Judge Pastor. He asks for "...a court order to see a doctor. I need to renew my medication." Judge Pastor replies, "Sure," and then adds something about Brown (or his counsel) filling out the proper paperwork. And that was it. Over before 9:00 AM.
My take is, the reason this case has taken so long to get to a third trial has been both counsel's schedules in other trials. It's just the nature of an over-burdened court system in LA County. It's my understanding that when a case is set at 0-120, that gives counsel four months to review the case right before trial. Is it possible this case will go to trial 120 days after September 21st? Anything's possible, but I would not be surprised if there are more delays in store for this case.
As I was walking down Broadway back to my parking lot, I happened to see DDA Shannon Presby, deep in conversation on his cell phone, walking across the mid-street cross walk towards CJC. He gave me a big smile and waved.