Inspiration Point, Ranch Palos Verdes, CA, where
Lauren Sarene Key fell to her death on November 8, 2000.
Photo copyright, Betsy A. Ross
UPDATE 3/25: edit for clarity, spelling; added links to CALCRIM jury instructions 220 & 224.
Monday, March 23, 2015
I get downtown a bit late. I seriously considered passing up the morning voir dire in Cameron Brown to cover the Darren Sharper plea agreement and sentencing in Dept. 51, Judge Pastor's courtroom. I've been fortunate to cover a few cases in his courtroom and really admire Judge Pastor. I think he's an amazing jurist. I even hung out on the 7th floor for a time, weighing the options.
Sharper, a former NFL player who reached the Super Bowl, is accused of drugging and raping women in California, Arizona, Louisiana and Nevada. On Friday, ESPN reported:
“... his lawyers said Friday the former safety reached a plea agreement that will settle rape charges involving at least nine women in four states.”There will be video conferencing between Los Angeles and Arizona so that Sharper can change his plea in Arizona.
From the ESPN story, it appears Sharper will change his plea on the California and Arizona charges today and plead on the charges in Nevada tomorrow. Sharper will then travel to Louisiana to change his plea there. LA Times Now story on the plea agreement.
Also in court in New Orleans this morning is Robert Durst, former heir to a billion-dollar real estate empire in New York. Durst was arrested in New Orleans last week on a warrant out of Los Angeles for the December 2000, cold case murder of Susan Berman, Durst's long time friend. According to the LA Times, Durst' attorney Dick DeGuerin successfully argued for an immediate preliminary hearing on the New Orleans charges.
There's been a lot of speculation about what's going to happen in New Orleans for Durst. Some people have speculated that Durst could go on trial in New Orleans first before ever being shipped back to Los Angeles. I'm not an attorney or a legal analyst. However, in my opinion, murder charges trump whatever Durst has been charged with in Louisiana. No matter what happens there, when LA County wants Durst in California, it's my opinion they will get him.
I'm inside Dept. 107. Brown has been brought out. His wife Patty is not in the gallery. The first issue will be potential jurors that are bringing excuses that they were told to bring last week. A juror brings a note from their doctor. Surgery secheduled for April 1. Another juror brings papers for travel. Excused.
Patty Brown arrives and sits in the seat behind me.
A juror brings in a note that an appointment was changed to June and this juror can serve. Judge Lomeli is ecstatic. The next juror is graduating from USC. The court is a USC fan and tells the juror he won't let him miss his graduation. The court also comments that the juror's major is a tough one.
Some jurors are not excused and are asked to join the jury pool outside. One juror with equilibrium problems is not excused.
Brown turns to gesture to his wife. Patty whispers behind me but I didn't understand what she said.
Mr. Laub argues that the jurors should be pre-instructed on all the alternative choices beyond first degree murder. As we're going through the trial, without the jurors knowing there is a range of legal culpability, it can be confusing.
The court responds. I can tell you Mr. Laub that was a big issue for the jury both times. They understand that the court will emphasize, that there will be lesser included's. They have to decide beyond reasonable doubt.
People have no objections that court instructs there will be lesser included's.
Court thinks there's no harm no foul.
Judge Lomeli, states "We are getting ready to start."
Patty and I are asked to exit the courtroom as the clerk calls the first 24 jurors. There is an error. The clerk is calling from Thursday's list and not Wednesday. The jurors exit the courtroom and the clerk starts over.
The first 24 jurors will be seated in and in front of the jury box. Once they're seated, the rest of the jurors will be seated in the gallery.
The rest of the jurors file into dept. 107. Once they're seated, I'm hopeful there will be a seat for me in the gallery.
The gallery is full. I'm in the ante chamber. A seat opens up against the back wall beside the door.
Patty Brown is sitting to my right.
Judge Lomeli explains the process of selecting the jury. Judge Lomeli is hopeful that a jury will be selected by tomorrow afternoon or the end of the day.
The court: Mr. Cameron Brown is accused of the crime of murder. On or about Nov 8 2000, Mr. Brown did murder Lauren Sarene Key. Alleged the murder was intentional by the defendant for financial gain. Also charged with lying in wait. It's not a death penalty case.
The court: Just because I read the charges and allegations, that does not make them true. The constitution guarantees, that you are presumed to be innocent. The burden is on the prosecution, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. And I think the rationale is that the state brought the charges, it's up to them to prove them up. The defense has no burden. The defendant is innocent until proven different by a preponderance of the evidence.
Judge Lomeli explains that at the end of the trial there will be something called lesser crimes that they will be instructed on. But they all have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Judge Lomeli explains that the jurors will not be going into this blindly. They will get instructions to help them. Now tells them they are not allowed to discuss this case with anyone. Not their spouse or even their spiritual adviser. They are not allowed to discuss with another juror.
Judge Lomeli gives an example of another six week case he tried, where jurors were heard discussing the case. A court reporter overheard it and was ethically bound to tell the court. As tempting as it might be to discuss an interesting point of the evidence, don't do that. Don't form an opinion until it's submitted to you and you can begin your deliberations on this matter.
The first juror is questioned. The jurors husband is a lawyer. Has had jury service before. Three times. A federal money laundering case, a DUI and a sexual assault case.
Judge Lomeli explains the difference between civil and criminal trials in regards to preponderance of the evidence.
DDA Hum asks to approach. It's a brief discussion at the bench. The second juror is questioned. Nurse. Prior jury experience, an attempted murder case. Third juror questioned. Fourth questioned.
These are brief questions about who they are, their area of residence, occupation, marital status, children, occupation of adults in the home and prior jury experience.
Several of the jurors have had jury experience on murder cases in this same courthouse.
One juror was on a trial in Judge Kennedy's courtroom, at the other end of the hallway. That trial ended in a hung jury.
The court will now ask the group if they or a family member have been a victim of a crime.
One juror raises their hand. A relative was raped and murdered 25 years ago. They can remain impartial.
The court asks if you or family members have been arrested or charged with anything. One juror, a nephew was arrested on domestic violence charges. It was a third strike. The relative was treated fairly by system.
One juror was drinking underage, and arrested at 20. This was over 10 years ago. She was put on probation. Has nothing against police. Their uncle is a cop in Glendale, a Sargent.
Another juror has a relative who was arrested. Did not go to the trial.
Is there anything about what the judge has read to them about the charges that would make it difficult for you to serve.
Regardless of what the situation is that they could always be under your care and supervision, regardless of where they are.
The judge states the charges have nothing to do of being under supervision.
The juror relates it to herself. She's just thinking about little kids. Judge Lomeli explains to her if she was sitting in Mr. Brown's chair, she would want a jury that decides a case on the evidence and not just hearing the charges.
The juror replies, "You're a tough judge."
The juror continues to talk about being for children. Judge Lomeli states the juror would be better served to be on a case that doesn't involve children. The juror is excused. Judge Lomeli states to his clerk, "Call another lucky number from the audience."
Jurors are asked if they have friends or family in law enforcement. Several jurors have relatives, friends in law enforcement.
Judge Lomeli gives the example of people who believe anything that comes out of a police officer's mouth, and those who don't believe anything they say.
Judge Lomeli states that as jurors, you're using a lot of information to determine if someone is telling the truth. You use consistency of story, body language.
Have any of you had a negative experience with law enforcement? Juro #20. They've been harassed by police officers. Daughter harassed as well. It's not continuing now. Juror thinks there are good and bad in all groups.
The court says, we're looking for people that can judge on the evidence. Judge Lomeli, says, "I went to Catholic School for eight years, and those nuns really know how to use a ruler."
Now Judge Lomeli explains evidence, and that it comes from the stand. And that right now, jurors must vote not guilty because they've heard no evidence.
"As you sit here right now, can you keep an open mind until the evidence is presented?"
Is there any reason, that you can think of, that you could not be fair in this manner. I see no affirmative responses."
Aron Laub stands to question the jury. He tells the jury that when he first took on this case, he found it hard. He's a father himself and it was hard for him to grasp.
A juror seated on the other side of Patty, leans over to me and hushes my typing.
Is there any juror here who has similar thoughts as mine and is willing to talk about it. One juror states that it was concerning to them.
Another juror has a four year old child. Doesn't know if it was intentional or not.
Laub tells the juror that there are lesser included's and that they could come back with charges that are lesser. Listening to the evidence, knowing how you feel now, do you think you would be open to the different possibilities that will be presented to you.
Laub asks if they can approach briefly. Judge Lomei states, "Briefly counsel." Sidebar ends.
Talking about how disturbing it is, about the charges against a father. Laub ask the juror to expand on what they feel.
Juror states everyone is responsible for their own situations in life. Laub asks her to explain.
If someone finds themselves in a position that their child died, they have a responsibility clearly, any situation where some one has done something to you, you've done something to get yourself in that situation.
Judge Lomeli interrupts. He states Laub's question is a difficult question, without knowing the lesser charges. One juror questions about the length of time since the event to the trial, so something must have happened.
On the jury questionnaire, there was question about having bad splits in relationships. If you were to hear, that Cameron Brown hasn't handled it well, in the splitting up of relationships well, ... is that going cause anyone whose had that experience? ... Let me put it this way. If I've been presented with a situation with something that's similar to what I've had, it's hard to pull back from that.
Laub states, you will need to pull back your emotion. ... Not that you can't have emotion, just that you'll have to pull them back.
In thinking about the burden of proof, the court will instruct you about, the person who is accused, doesn't have to justify and you have to consider that in deliberations. In this case, maybe some of you feels that it would be incomprehensible, for a person who is not guilty, not testifying. Is there anyone here who feels that. Is there anyone here? A juror raises their hand.
Is there anyone else who can think of a reason why, a person who is not guilty wouldn't testify, in a case like that?
Judge states, this is one of the questions that he should have asked. Judge informs the jury that they can't use that, against the defendant. If that happened would anyone be able to follow my instruction, and disregard it?
Laub has a soft, measured pace and demeanor addressing the jury.
Some jurors give explanations as to why someone might not take the stand.
Laub thanks the jurors for their responses. It opens a door of thought. He tells the jury, "I'm nervous talking to you."
DDA Hum now steps up to the podium to address the jury. Explains how he asks jurors to speak up and even hold up their hands to answer questions as a group. He goes through a few questions to get his point across. He asks the jurors to reply in a loud voice. He addresses them again with the same question when only a few respond vocally.
Let's talk about some significant issues. When you came in, you didn't know the charges of this case. Then heard it was a murder case. Did that surprise you? About two jurors raise their hands and said yes.
When you heard charges, that he was accused of throwing his 4 year old off a cliff, how many were surprised? Many raise hands. Did some of you find it hard to believe? Yes.
How many said to themselves, "I don't want to believe that's possible." Some raise their hands.
Here's my concern. If you think, I don't want to believe that happened; how can a parent kill their four year old child and throw them off a cliff? You understand that you're saying then, that it's hard to believe that I can prove my case beyond a reasonable doubt.
But you understand my concern. If you start out thinking that's not possible, if you heard certain evidence, you might look for ways to make it not possible. You might try to find any possible way you could, to make it an accident.
What I don't want, is that. Because you can't believe that could happen, (father killing his own child) I will look at the evidence differently.
Another juror states, it is hard to find that a parent could do that to their child. Do you think that everyone, no matter who they are, want the best for their kids?
Do you think that the prosecution starts off at a disadvantage with you because you believe that way?
Is there anyone who thinks, that the nature of the charges, but that he's charged ... that they would look at the evidence differently, try to make it look like an accident? Can you all promise, not to do that? Jurors listen and agree.
Would everyone be able to give the people a fair trial, despite the nature of the charges? Yes.
Is there anyone who thinks they can tell, what a murderer looks like? No.
It would be great if everyone looks like Charles Manson [with a swastika on their forehead]. Is there anyone who thinks that, a way a defendant looks, that's evidence of his guilt? Is there anyone who looks and thinks that man couldn't have thrown his daughter off a cliff? (No raised hands.)
DDA Hum talks about circumstantial evidence. Is there anyone who thinks that, if there was no eye witnesses, the case can't be proven. "There's no eye witness, there's no confession," Hum tells the jury.
DDA Hum explains circumstantial evidence. He gives the example of it's raining, and you see it with your own eyes. You look out the window, and everything's wet. Car is wet, lawn is wet. What can you conclude from that? It rained. Did you see it rain? No.
How many of you've seen TV shows, where they say, "All they've got is circumstantial evidence. And it's a lousy case." Those lawyers are wrong, and the judge will instruct you. Neither evidence is wrong. They both have equal weight.
DDA Hum asks a few jurors if they can think of ways that the case might be proven despite no eye witnesses, despite no confession.
One juror offers an example that I miss.
This is one of the ways, a case can be proven. Part of it might be seeing the location. Another might be motive. Does anyone have an issue with that at all? There are no hands raised.
DDA Hum continues with his voir dire. "One issue came up when Mr. Laub was questioning." The intent to kill and varying degrees of criminal responsibility. The judge will instruct on the different levels of murder.
Laub objects and the court overrules.
One other very brief question, everyone was asked if they had read online about the case. No one has gone online. Asks them if they would be able to avoid going online. Everyone agrees they can avoid going online.
I'm back inside the courthouse from lunch, trying to get my laptop recharged. I'll have an update as soon as I'm back inside Dept. 107
I get back inside the courtroom about 5 minutes after counsel start excusing jurors.
We can't seem to keep a juror in seat number 2. It happens sometimes.
We've now gone through 13 jurors. Another 13 are being called to fill the extra seats in front of the jury box.
In the gallery, some jurors close their eyes. One juror giving his basis information, states that he has "no children that he's aware of." This brings a bit of laughter to the courtroom.
The court asks if they or family members have ever been convicted of a crime. One juror has a couple relatives who have committed murder and were sentenced.
Judge Lomeli asks if anyone has any concerns about being a fair juror in this case. One potential juror asks why the child was taken to that place if it was dangerous. Judge Lomeli asks the juror if she thinks she can be fair. She says she will try.
Then Judge Lomeli gives this example of a bride and groom at the altar, and the groom is asked if he will be faithful, and the groom replies, "I'll try." Judge Lomeli stresses how important it is to listen to the evidence and judge the case only on the evidence. The court tells the juror he doesn't want her "to try."
Now the new group is asked if they have any relatives that are in law enforcement.
Judge Lomeli now asks this new group about presumption of evidence and the right not to take the stand. A juror tells the court that they would be biased if the defendant doesn't testify. He's excused for cause.
Judge asks the group if there is any reason, where you think you might not be fair.
Now Mr. Laub is up.
One of the things that the prosecutor talked with you about is circumstantial evidence, and that it can be sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. You'll get an instruction from the judge that if there are two reasonable explanations... I believe Mr. Laub is talking about jury instruction 224.
There's another part to this. The scale doesn't have to be balanced when it comes to reasonable. If one is more forceful, and the one's that's more forceful points to guilt, but the other is reasonable, the law forces you to point to not guilty.
Mr. Laub pauses. It's true that the defense doesn't have to present evidence to you. Prosecution has to prove it's case. But I'm going to tell you right now, we are going to present witnesses.
Now that we've put on witnesses, is there anyone here who thinks that one side has to present a more forceful case? Even when the defense presents witnesses, it doesn't shift it onto the defense. It still leaves the burden with the prosecution.
I'm not trying to ask these questions, not to be a tricky defense lawyer, but because this is the law.
You all heard earlier how uncomfortable I am, in a case where, there's been a defense of a child. Is there anyone who will see me, and know that I'm uncomfortable, that will misread this and think that I must know more? There are no 'yes' answers.
My questions have to be addressed to the new jurors. All of you heard my prior question regarding the nature of the charges. How many of you, when you heard not just the charge, but the scenario, how many were surprised? Five raised hands.
So five were surprised by the nature of the charges.
#2 why? First of all because it's a kid. I know that hiking by itself, can be dangerous. He explains his own experience with his children. What surprised him, was the fact that it was a child.
#22 I think it's more nuanced than that. The juror wasn't surprised at the charges. The world is filled with lots of different types of behavior.
Another juror is a mother and they were surprised. She asked herself, how can a father do that? Then again, she hasn't heard the whole story.
Hum states, that's a very normal reaction. Hum asks, would they look at the evidence differently? Hum asks, just because we are filled with emotion, we must remove that, and base the verdict on the evidence. The juror mentions again, that it's hard to understand, believe that a parent could do that.
Hum states, "It does happen." Laub objects and states, "We don't know that.". The court clarifies that in the news we hear about these cases. Judge Lomeli asks Laub, do you really think that in all of history, it never happens? The court states that it does happen.
Hum now asks about circumstantial evidence since there is no confession and no eye witnesses. Do the jurors think someone can still be found guilty just by circumstantial evidence. Jurors agree that someone can.
Judge Lomeli states that there certainly have been incidents where parents have killed their children, and there have been incidents where, it was an accident.
Mr. Laub asks for a sidebar.
One prospective juror in the new group is asked to join the sidebar. This could be something from the juror's questionnaire, or a concern by counsel with answers in voir dire.
The juror requested at side bar is excused by the court for cause.
The afternoon break is called. The jurors exit the courtroom. Brown is taken back into custody.
I stay inside the courtroom to charge my laptop. Mr. Laub, DDA Hum and Hum's investigator work intently at their respective tables.
We are back on the record. Judge Lomeli asks if there are any jurors to excuse for cause. The court asks the clerk to bring in potential juror #18. I believe the juror will questioned again.
The jury files back in. We are back on the record and counsel are exercising their peremptory chalenges.
One by one, jurors in the box are excused and jurors in the front 12 seats are ordered up to the jury box.
Each side gets 20 strikes. We've gone through and excused 24 jurors now. Some jurors have been excused for cause.
In this pre-jury box group, we have two firefighters and an attorney. Another juror with a relative serving life for murder and another relative charged with a drug offense. A juror had an uncle shot and killed over 25 years ago. More jurors with relatives with issues with the law. A juror had a nephew that was killed.
Now jurors are talking about instances where they were arrested or relatives were arrested. One juror's uncle was convicted of fraud, a federal case.
Judge Lomeli asks if anything about this case would cause them not to be fair to one side or the other. There are no hands. Then one juror, mentions that they had heard about the case before.
Mr. Laub asks for a break. Judge Lomeli asks the group to be back at 9:30 am tomorrow.
Judge Lomeli asks counsel to be back by 9:00 am so he can render his ruling on the prosecution's motion to not admit defense witnesses.
Mr. Laub comes out from the back room's restroom. The court asks Mr. Laub if he can be here by 9:00 am for the court to render a ruling on the exclusion of witnesses.
Both counsel are at 12 strikes. The court is confident they can pick a jury by tomorrow. Court expects opening statements by Wednesday morning and to call witnesses directly after.
And that's it for today.