Monday, May 6, 2013

Cameron Brown Third Trial, Pretrial 7, Kelly Soo Park Update 11 & Dept. 46, Prelim: Long Beach, CA, Homeless Encampment Murders

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
At the last moment, Mr. Sprocket decided he needed the car today so there was a mad rush for him to get ready to drive me to the train.  I like taking the train, if there is someone to drop me off.  I don’t like taking the Orange Line bus to the train.

I was trying to convince one of my trial watching friends to come into downtown and attend this hearing today, but she is glued to the Jodi Arias trial.  (As of Friday afternoon, this case went to the jury, thank goodness.)  For Jodi Arias trial coverage, I recommend Calls For Justice, the blog run by former T&T contributor, Donchais.

I make it to the Red Line Station in time to catch the 7:59 train.  I’ll only have a few minutes to try to make it to the 9th floor, so I’ll have to hustle.

9th Floor

I get inside Dept. 107 and 8:37 AM, just in time to hear defense attorney Aron Laub and DDA Craig Hum have an off the record conversation with Judge Lomeli about the scheduling of this trial.  Judge Lomeli wants the trial to start in September or October of this year.

JL: In view of my calendar ... probably looking at ... trial date later part of October or early September.

AL: (It’s?) ... going to go to ... early part of next year. ... I’m in Judge Oki’s courtroom (Pomona Courthouse) ... I’m in Judge Ohta’s courtroom (Dept 108)  ... August 5th (I’m in) Judge Marcus’s courtroom (Dept. 102) .... September 6th, Judge Fidler’s courtroom (Dept. 106) ...

JL: ... That remains to be seen. I can’t accommodate the calendar of every attorney (who comes before me) ...

AL: For what it’s worth ... Judge Fidler ... it’s absolutely going on the 6th ...

JL: I’m taking about starting our case in October ...

AL: case ...

JL: I told you counsel, about this case many months ago ...

I believe it’s Judge Lomeli who states he wants to put this decision over until June, and then asks for comment from the people.

CH: I think we had discussed this the last time.  The victim’s mother is out of the country until the beginning of September.

I believe Hum adds something to the effect that the mother’s testimony is a big part of the people's case.

CH: ... understand Mr. Laub’s (calendar?) and the court’s position. ... Because the case is so old, the people are not disadvantaged ... 

I believe Judge Lomeli asks for some more stats on the case.

CH: The crime occurred in November 2000 .... the arrest occurred in 2003 ..

There are more statements about putting the case over until June.  Judge Lomeli asks how long the case will take.

CH: Last time it took six to seven weeks.

JL: In June, we’ll talk about it and I’ll talk to Judge Fidler.

Laub makes his case to Judge Lomeli for putting the trial over until the next year.  Then, he will not have this backlog of other defendants he’s representing whose cases are all coming to trial around the same time.  Brown is Laub’s newest client.  He’s had all these other cases longer.  Laub makes a point to tell the court that “....this client (Brown) is willing to waive...”

JL: In June, we’ll set the case at zero of 60, and play it by ear.

Judge Lomeli tells the bailiff to bring Brown out so they can go on the record.

Brown is brought out. He gives a quick nod to his attorney and after he sits down they confer.   Judge Lomeli asks counsel, “Let’s see counsel at the bench real quick.”  Brown rocks in his chair a bit. Laub whispers to his client again.  Judge Lomeli asks Brown if he waives his right until June 21st. Brown waives.

The case is put over to June 21st.  Judge Lomeli is asked to sign a medical order for Brown. “Just give it to my clerk and I’ll look at it,” he replies.

And that’s it.

Afterwards, there is some friendly banter at the bench about Laub being on time today.  I believe it’s Judge Lomeli who said, “Mr, Laub. I’m impressed. You got here right on time.” Laub mentions that he arrived at 8:15 AM, and then something I don’t quite catch about respecting the court.  Judge Lomeli responds (jokingly?) “Why start now?”

At some point during the hearing, I mentioned to DDA Hum that Mark Geragos and Pat Harris recently came out with a new book, Mistrial.  In the book, three pages (Pg. 180 to182) are devoted to the Brown case.  It appeared to me Mr. Laub was surprised to hear that his client’s former counsel discussed the pending case in a book.


Dept. 46, David Cruz Ponce and Max Eliseo Rafael
After the hearing I headed down to Dept. 46 on the 7th floor.  I had recently learned that DDA Stacy Okun-Wiese was in day two of a preliminary hearing. It’s the case of two gang members, David Cruz Ponce and Max Eliseo Rafael, charged with five murders that occurred in November, 2008 at a Long Beach homeless encampment.

Okun-Wiese is prosecuting Kelly Soo Park and I thought I could listen in on this hearing for a short time and maybe at the first break, I could ask her about the status of the Park case.  When I get in the elevator down, there are two sheriff's deputies with me and I ask them what floor Dept. 46 is on. I thought it might be on the the third floor, but one officer opens up a little book and replies, "Seventh floor."  I thanked him and immediately punch the 7th floor button.

When I enter Dept. 46, Judge Melissa N. Widdifield is on the bench, but this isn’t her regular courtroom.  Her courtroom is Dept. 43. The court reporter is a man. This is the first time I've seen a male court reporter.

I see Terri Keith from City News is in the third row, aisle seat.  I take the row in front of her.  Terri is an amazing reporter.  Her colleagues have told me that it would take at least two reporters, possibly three to replace her.

Terri tells me that this is day two of the preliminary hearing and they hope to finish the prelim today by noon.  Terri is also kind enough to give me some basics on the case. Both defendants were charged with the five murders at a homeless encampment. Long Beach PD investigated those deaths.  There is an additional murder the Ponce is charged with that occurred in Lancaster and the LA County Sheriff's investigated that death.

I thought I had seen these defendants before, and I was right. Looking back through my entries, I first saw the defendants back on March 29th, 2012, when I was in Dept. 30 for a Gerhard Becker hearing.  At the time, I saw former DDA Alan Jackson handing over 1200 pages of discovery to two different defense attorneys, (one for each defendant).

Ponce and Rafael were arrested in January 2012, and it has taken sixteen months from their arrest to get the case to a preliminary hearing.

There are quite a few people in the gallery, mostly Latino.  I do not know if they are here for the defendants or the victims.  The courtroom is ice cold, and I'm grateful I brought a sweater with me.

On the stand is an officer or more likely a detective, Mr. Lewinstein (sp?) with the Long Beach Police Department under cross examination by one of the defense attorneys.  That witness wasn't on the stand for very long when the next witness is called, Francis Hardiman, who will introduce jail tape recordings. It never ceases to amaze me that criminals will discuss their crimes in a locked facility where they could easily be tape recorded.

The prosecution tries to play their first recording, but it's terrible.  The sound is not right.  The external speakers that Okun-Wiese brought did not work with the laptop with the audio files. The prosecution team eventually get that recording to work but the second recording, the sound won't work at all.  There is quite a bit of time spend trying to get the recording onto a laptop that will work.  Even the witness tries to help.

Once the playing of the second recording begins, I notice two women in the first row. They both held their hands over their mouths as they listened to the second tape.   The recordings are difficult for me to hear exactly what is said.  There is a lot of background noise on the tapes.  At one point in the second tape I do hear someone talking about the weapons used in the murders. "...They're gone. Those burners are gone."  Burners being the slang word for the guns.

About five or six recordings are played.  I do hear on at least two recordings, someone imitating the sound of a gun being discharged (Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!) several times in a row, as if they are describing the event.  On the last recording, I hear a voice say, "I know how to use my better judgement. You know what I mean?"  My initial thought was the irony of that statement.  I also heard laughter, bragging on the tape.  At one point in the recordings, two hefty Latino men left the courtroom, sobbing.

After the recordings were played, an LA County Sheriff who is an expert on gangs testified.

Kelly Soo Park
At 12 noon, testimony wasn't finished and the judge ordered everyone back the following morning.  I waited outside the courtroom for Okun-Wiese.  When she emerged I introduced myself.  She thought I looked familiar.  I asked about the status of the Park case.  She said that jury selection will start as planned on May 13th, however, there is one more pretrial hearing on May 9th to argue motions.

It takes me about two hours to get home by train and bus.