Monday, September 21, 2015

Cameron Brown Sentenced to Life Without Parole

Lauren Sarene Key, 4, murdered 11/8/2000.
Photo Copyright © Sarah Key-Marer, all rights reserved.

UPDATE 9/27: Correction. Previous version had Sarah Key-Marer approaching Patty Brown and asking Patty Brown a question.

UPDATE 9/23: In Loving Memory of Lauren
UPDATE 9/22 7:30 am: spelling, clarity, accuracy

September 18, 2015
Friday Morning
Mr. Sprocket had a project in Long Beach, so he dropped me off at the downtown courthouse. As usual, he was running late. I was afraid I wouldn’t get on the 9th floor of the downtown criminal justice center until after 8:30 am.

The 9th Floor
I make it onto the 9th floor with a few minutes to spare. At the end of the hallway I see Sarah, Lauren’s mother, Sarah’s best friend, Detective Jeff Leslie, DDA Craig Hum and defense attorney Aron Laub. I greet Sarah and give her and her friend a hug. Sarah’s husband Greg and her stepson are not here yet.

There are several media people here and cameras. Marisa Gerber from the LA Times, Terri Keith with City News, Miriam Hernandez with local ABC and Randy Paige with local CBS.

The courtroom is opened and the bailiff (one of my favorites) lets the pool cameras inside to set up in the jury box. A few moments later, the media files in.

Inside Dept. 107
8:38 AM

I don’t see Patty Brown, the defendant’s wife or anyone else from his family.

At the end of the first row, right inside the well, the podium is set up. The bailiff explains to the family members where they will stand to give their victim impact statements.

Judge Lomeli’s kind court reporter comes out from the back rooms. There are very few people here from the general public. There is a male juror from the second trial, and another female juror, I believe from the third trial. There are four reporters to my left, Miriam to my right and next to her Terri Keith. Kathy from the court's PIO is here. There are last minute preparations.

In the well of the court, there are several extra tables set up for a large number of three ring binders, many of them five inches thick. One of the reporters mentions that it has to do with Judge Lomeli’s case in trial, and defendant Dr. Lisa Tseng.  From what I understand, each juror gets three of these thick binders.

Now the bailiff is giving the admonition to the gallery to maintain their composure during sentencing. If they can’t maintain their composure, they will be escorted out. The video camera and still photographers are set up in the jury box. KFI’s Shannon Farren is in the third row. DDA Hum and Mr. Laub are back in chambers with Judge Lomeli.  There are a few people in the gallery sitting on the benches behind the bailiff’s desk, but they could just be staff from the DA’s office or other people who work in the building. 

Along with Judge Lomeli’s bailiff, there are four additional deputies in the courtroom to help maintain order. One of the deputies is a Sargent.

8:45 AM
Patty Brown still hasn’t arrived yet. I’m not aware of any other members of Brown’s family in the gallery.  Detective Leslie is chatting with the Sargent deputy. Seated at the prosecution table, I see Detective Leslie has a very colorful pair of striped socks on. His socks put a smile on my face for a short moment.

Brown is brought out. His goatee and mustache have grown out and his hair is touching the jail jumpsuit. The court goes on the record and asks the parties to state their appearances. Judge Lomeli addresses the court, then Mr. Laub. “We’re here for sentencing. Before I get to the actual sentence, .... defense ... [does] the defendant wish to be heard?”  Mr. Laub responds, No. 

The people have several victim impact statements. DDA Hum calls Sarah Key-Marer to the podium.

Sarah Key-Marer

On behalf of myself and my family, thanks to Detective Leslie and Craig Hum for their dedication and hard work for the last [fifteen?] years, and the court and jury members through all three trials. My heart felt appreciation is given to the various witnesses, some who didn’t know Lauren, to recount their parts in her short life.

I thank my friends and family who encouraged me over these years and fought hard for justice and bring the truth to light for Lauren.

As painful as this is for me to read, and do this for myself, and what is in my heart for the last 15 years, there comes a point in your life ... that letting go is the best option. [I’m grateful?] for this opportunity to find these unspoken words.  My family and I are relieved that we can now have a long awaited peace now that the trial is ended ... and know what Lauren was to us without reliving all the tragic circumstances.

I’m here to be Lauren’s voice and to [share?] who she was, ... and the suffering she endured in her short life. It didn’t need to end this way for her or for us. Considerations and [accomodations?] could have been made if Mr. Brown so wished. It would have been so simple if he was willing to make [some?] changes ... taking part in the reality that she was part of both of our lives.

She was caught up in a conflict between Mr. Brown and the happy state of our family. ... This isn’t any way that any child should have to live. ... We watched the sparkle fade in the last months of her life. ... She tried to understand. ... None of it made sense to her. ... She didn’t deserve to be rejected by anyone especially her own flesh and blood. She just wanted to be loved no matter what [?] differences are.

As time went on, it became hard to console her worries. Her smile faded each time Mr. Brown entered her life. She became withdrawn and became so sad. The happy child that I knew was fading.

The impact on my life has been so [hard?] to explain. My heart is broken from losing the one thing that I treasured [the most]. This all took a toll on me. It created emotional pain and physical sickness that manifested in advanced stage cancer.

My family also suffered. We are all so broken without her and the dreams that we had for Lauren are taken. I imagined she would have impacted the world with her beautiful personality, her kind-hearted spirit and her great love of people.

[There’s more here that I miss. As Sarah is speaking I can’t help it. Tears well up in my eyes and I try to wipe them and type at the same time. Sarah talks about Lauren's personality. ]

I shall miss the special times we could have had ... grade school performances, graduation ... and a betrothal of her own. But more than that, ... I will miss the warmth of her skin, her crystal blue eyes, her gentleness, her loving nature that filled everyone she knew with so much joy.

I miss tickling her tummy and she would laugh so hard that tears would run down her cheek. ... I miss nuzzling her face against mine and her whispering in my ear, “I love you Mummy.”

She thought that she would catch a fairy someday and keep it in her pocket, a friend to have to tell all her secrets and things she struggled with.  It was a comfort to her in a scary confusing situation. She feared Mr. Brown and didn’t tell us ... and protected us ... in spite of the agony he caused her.

My faith in God reassures me I will be reunited with her again. This allows me a future beyond the pain. I know she waits for us in heaven to be with her again. I know ... know she’s free from the painful turmoil ... and will be protected from the turmoil and is at peace. I thank God for protecting me from [revenge?] and his grace has allowed me this freedom. She did not show any hatred towards the people that caused her pain.

I tried to believe Mr. Brown’s accounts of that day were true and that it was an awful accident. I wrestled with this over and over. It would have been easier to accept. It took this time to come to the truth and justice prevailed. I’ve come to terms with the verdict. It’s not only my family, but Mr. Brown’s family. ... It affected us all.

I have learned that the way to heal is forgiveness. It releases me and allows God to be the ultimate judge. It has been my wish that Mr. Brown take responsibility for her death. I wish him no harm. I have some [relief?] from the court proceedings and the freedom to speak out [now?]. Mr. Brown, you’ll never take her memory from us.

Sarah’s statement was three or four typed pages, single spaced.

The people call Greg Marer

Words cannot fully express the pain and agony that we experienced. He took the life of a human being with no regard for the effect that it would have on others. ... There would be no more birthday parties or holiday celebrations. ... No academic celebrations, or a potential wedding. ... Lauren has been robbed from the opportunity to experience all that life awards. ... All these things are forever gone. Our family is broken. The effect on our family has been devastating. ... We had to endure 15 years of emotion, turmoil, court proceedings, ... three jury verdicts.

The pain of having to relive and the grief of such a horrendous act brought our grief to perpetuity. ... How do we displace the [anger?] that will not bring us peace and healing. Fortunately we have a loving God. We are called to forgive. [? of guilt ... I cannot say?] All these years since he selfishly murdered her, our little girl.

[The defendant and Mr. Laub stare straight ahead.]

I pray that some day, Mr. Brown will repent and ask his creator for mercy and grace. It is my belief that Cameron can be forgiven ... he must fully face the consequences of his actions.

Greg extends his gratitude to the court. He thanks everyone for Lauren.

The people call Josh Marer [Lauren’s stepbrother].
I remember when I met Lauren. I was six and it was past her first birthday. My parents would fall in love and I would be her big brother. We even had our beds pushed next to the wall so we could pray together.

Her personality would brighten up the room. She would dance, sing and tell jokes. She would draw everyone in. She enjoyed making people happy. She had a fascinating imagination and she loved playing pretend. ... She would have me play, too. 

She was never angry or sad until she met Cameron Brown. She knew my dad was not her father. It began with Lauren coming home from visits being agitated and upset. ...Afterwards ... she would come home crying and scared. Before, she would open up to me because I was her big brother. After [Cameron Brown?] she seemed distant, confused and angry. Things I had never seen in Lauren. I wanted the Lauren I knew back. It hurt me that she was hurting inside.

Josh mentions the impact Lauren had on his life.

The night before she died, we were playing her favorite board game. During the game, she was angry and not playing the game right. She stood up and kicked all the game pieces over and then ran to her room. ... I tried to hold her and tell her it was okay. ... She made me promise not to tell anyone. I agreed. She said, “I think I’m going to die tomorrow.”

I was shocked. I asked her why and she [wouldn’t? couldn’t?] tell me. I told her to go to bed and she would feel better in the morning. I told Sarah. Sarah said she was going through a lot. I never thought that after she went to school ... I never thought I would never see her again. I was ten.

My father worked more and more to drown himself in his work. I took it out on Sarah. How many times I would close my eyes ... and that it would all go away like a bad dream. ... I had problems in school and ran away. I became addicted to drugs. I wanted to be with my sister again. ... I thought I could [have done?] more [to save her?]. I beat myself up for many years that God had taken her and not me. I was too young to know who I was and how I would fit in. I thought I was a [puzzle piece?]. I tried .... I turned to drugs. I went in and out of rehab and jail. Until ... Lauren had become my guardian angel.

[This testimony is so difficult to hear. My heart breaks for this young man.]

I got off drugs and free from the chains that put me down. I have a wife and child that I knew Lauren would want for me. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder what she would be like today.  I know she watches and protects me and I’m truly grateful. I’m not as forgiving for Lauren as the rest of my family.

The lives that he damaged [tricked down?] like a stone. Our family today is closer and stronger [than?] ever.

Josh then thanks the district attorney, Detective Leslie and the witnesses and the friends and family that kept by his side.

The people call Annette Watling

[I’m pleased that Judge Lomeli has let Sarah’s best friend give an impact statement. Some judges only allow the immediate family to speak.]

Sarah [is] my best friend for over 20 years. She is my sister. She is Auntie Sarah to my children. ... During Sarah’s pregnancy, I listened in shock to what she was going through. ... Sarah had a tremendous faith in God. It was difficult to watch.

[After Lauren was born] it was easy to fall in love with this baby. My husband knew her decision to be a single mother. He reached out to her ... to be Lauren’s godparents.

Lauren was my daughter’s first ever friend. ... My two daughters made play dates, shared holidays and vacations [with Lauren]. [It was like?] having a new family away from home.

Sarah asked my opinion ... to get in touch with Mr. Brown. I was Mr. Brown’s champion. Without hesitation, I encouraged her to do so. This cuts deep and torments me every day.

I listened to the frantic details through the summer of 2000. I listened to the terror in her voice.

[I believe Annette is referencing the charges where Brown accused Sarah of abusing Lauren.]

[I told her] ... these lies will be proven, I promise you.  It was hard to see Sarah face this uphill challenge.

When Sarah returned from England, she could tell me how fantastic that trip was. She explained how much trouble she had with Mr. Brown. The court battle that was weeks away. ... That was the last time I spoke to Sarah, just days before. ...

[That was?] one day that was etched permanently in my mind. I didn’t know what I was listening to. I was shaken up ... uncontrollable ... and my legs buckled. My husband caught me as I was falling. My daughter witnessed me shaking uncontrollably, trying not to vomit. I relive that day in my head daily. I’ve been by Sarah throughout this whole ... even the whole time ... helping her to prepare ... the whole step. I put my family on hold for three long trials ... even my work, so I could be there for Sarah and Lauren.

It’s fair to say it took a tremendous toll on my own family. The guilt I will carry is tremendous, for Sarah to contact Mr. Brown ... as Mr. Brown maliciously tied her hands.

I tried to shield Sarah, ... to this day, that my two daughter’s call on Sarah and share in her grief. ... Seeing her through these excruciating hearings. Having to see her battle for cancer through the first trial. ... Lauren touched so many people through all these years.

Not only did he take my daughter’s first best friend, there’s always a huge void. There always will be. ... I hang onto the times we had with Lauren.

[I recently] dropped my own daughter off at college, and we won’t get to experience that with Lauren.

Annette states she hopes that Brown will take responsibility.

DDA Hum tells the court that he has a few letters from family members that he would like to read. DDA Hum reads the letters. [Sarah mentioned to me after the hearing that the authors did not want their letters made public, so I have not transcribed the notes I took.]

After reading the letters, DDA Hum speaks to the court.

I never knew Lauren. My descriptions of her would never be as vivid. I do want to thank Detective Leslie for his devotion to this case. For never giving up on this case. It would have been easy for him and his partner to have accepted the defendants story and write this off as an accident and gone home. They never did that. Detective Leslie devoted a good portion of his life ... investigating people and ensuring that justice would have been done for Lauren.

DDA Hum thanks the court and the court staff. He thanks Sarah and her family for their kind words, then turns to address them.

I can’t imagine what you’ve been through for the past 15 years, but you bore it with strength and dignity and never lost faith that someday this moment would come.

DDA Hum turns and looks at the defendant when he speaks next.

But there are some crimes that are so horrendous, that are so senseless, that they just boggle the mind and make you question your humanity.

Hum raises his voice. He’s almost yelling. “She was four years old!”  DDA Hum appears to break up emotionally.

Lauren would be 19 now. She never hurt or done anything to anybody and never experienced what it would be like to grow up. And justice will never bring back this four year old girl. Justice will never bring back this 19 year old woman. After 15 long years, it’s time for justice to be served.

9/18/15 Brown remains silent and stares straight ahead during 
the sentencing hearing. Photo: Pool Camera

Judge Lomeli indicates he received letters from Lynne Brown and Robert Brown. Judge Lomeli states, “I did read those and considered those.” He does not read these letters into the record. Judge Lomeli asks, “Anything to add Mr. Laub?” [Nothing to add.] Counsel waives time for sentencing.

“On May 15 the jury convicted the defendant of first degree murder, also the special circumstances of financial gain and by means of lying in wait. ... Respectfully .... judgement and sentence of this court, as prescribed under the law ... shall receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole. In view of the jury’s finding ... the total [commitment?] shall be life without possibility of parole. ... The defendant has provided DNA samples ... “

The court continues with the specific costs of a restitution fine, court fine and security costs. The court asks if there’s any restitution. I believe DDA Hum indicates no. The court addresses Mr. Laub, “I know that you have prepared a notice of appeal.” Then the court addresses the defendant. “If you wish to appeal, you must file your appeal in 60 days. ... The notice must be in writing and signed by you or your attorney or both of you. ... If you appeal and do not have the financial ability to represent yourself ... the appellate court will appoint an attorney to represent you. ... Nothing further from either counsel? ... We stand in recess.”

After that, Judge Lomeli asks Mr. Laub about Brown’s credits [for his time in LA County Men’s Central]. 4,338 days. The court states again the court is in recess.

DDA Hum and Detective Leslie shake hands. I did not see it, but during the victim impact statements, the media cameras caught Detective Leslie with tears on his face. Brown gets up and he’s taken back into custody. I note that the defendant and his counsel both stared straight ahead during the entire sentencing and not once looked at the individuals who gave their victim impact statements.

It wasn’t until the reading of the defendant’s credits that his wife, Patty Brown finally arrives at court. I see her try to hand a paper to Mr. Laub, possibly a statement. I'm not certain. I don’t hear Mr. Laub’s answer but I hear Patty Brown reply, “Outrageous.” I don't know what Patty expected since she was quite late to her husband's sentencing.

It was near the courtroom doors, or just outside in the hallway, I don’t remember, when Patty Brown’s brother, Ted Kaldis approached me. Kaldis says to me, “I would hope that you would write about something other than my wardrobe.” I’m surprised this is what Ted feels is important to say to me. 

Out in the hallway, it’s full of media and family. Everyone is lingering. Ted has a plastic bag and he is pulling out homemade CD’s and handing them to the reporters. He asks me if I want one.  As Ted speaks to the reporters in the hallway, Patty and Mr. Laub chat.

CBS reporter Randy Paige approaches Ted to talk to him. Ted asks Paige if he is “local or national.” I hear Ted talking about Sarah to the media. He says something to the effect that, the Sarah they were presented, is not the person she really is. I don’t have his exact words since I had put my notepad away at that point. 

Patty was speaking to reporters, telling them about her belief in her husband’s innocence. Patty approaches Sarah, saying something to the effect that she was sorry for Sarah's loss of Lauren. Sarah replies something to the effect of, 'Was there anything you wanted to say to me?' I quickly grabbed my notebook. Patty responded, “You know as much as anyone this was not a homicide.” Patty continues, “I don’t think this is the final outcome by any means.”

DDA Hum intervenes. In a loud, angry voice, Hum proclaims, “You don’t have to listen to this crap!”  DDA Hum then tells Ted Kaldis and Patty in a forceful tone to “Back off! ... Step aside!” Sarah quickly leaves the hallway for the safety of the women’s restroom. Several support staff from the DA’s office follow Sarah into the restroom to help console her. Patty and Ted are still on the floor, and Sarah and her family would have to walk past them to get to the elevators. DDA Hum offers to Sarah’s family to have the bailiff get them off the floor through a private elevator. 

Sarah and her family go back to the end of the hallway and enter a courtroom to take a private elevator to the 12th floor, where the media is set up for a press conference.  I attended the press conference and audio taped it. As soon as I get that audio up on the web, I’ll publish the link.

T&T started covering the Brown case in 2008, after the first Phil Spector trial ended in a hung jury. I reported on pretrial hearings and most of the second trial until I came down with a serious flu. During the second trial, I visited Abalone Cove, as well as Inspiration and Portuguese Points. I took photos of the cliffs and shot video. To say this case haunted me is an understatement. I never knew Lauren, but I had a strong desire to know what really happened to her, and report on her case.

Thanks to Mr. Sprocket, I'm grateful that I was able to attend many of the pretrial hearings and report on every day of the third trial.

Sadly, Mr. Sprocket and I had a personal loss In the middle of the trial. Our 10 month old kitten, Rudy Rocket, was diagnosed with FIP, a deadly illness. He was a total joy and a daily entertainer. Rudy Rocket was Mr. Sprocket's favorite fur child who followed him all over the house. We said goodbye on April 25, and tried to grieve while I continued to report on the trial.

I will never forget Lauren. I will continue to report on when Brown is transferred out of LA County and into the custody of CDCR, as well as what happens with his appeal.

 Lauren, blowing a kiss.
Photo Copyright © Sarah Key-Marer, all rights reserved.

Media Reports on Sentencing
AP via Yahoo News
Daily Breeze
LA Times
KTLA Interview with Detective Jeff Leslie
Daily Mail, UK article
Daily Mail, Video

Video: In Loving Memory of Lauren


David In TN said...

Thanks for all of your work on this case and for providing the media links.

BusyWife said...

Wow, the testimony of Lauren's brother is unbelievable. I wonder what Cameron said to his daughter that made her think that. Just horrifying. Sprocket, if you have any insight let us know. So glad there is finally justice.

Sprocket said...

This is the million dollar question in this case.

Why did Lauren, over the months before her death, become fearful of her father? To the point that it affected her behavior. The delightful sparkle of this special child's soul was seeping out of her, every time she went to visit her father.

Did Brown threaten her in some way? Was it direct? Was it implied? How did they spend their time? We will never know.

What many don't know is, that Lauren, in several of her drawings found at her school, drew a monster with big ears, just like Brown's.

In one drawing, (minus the monster) she had a steep cliff, the ocean below, a stick figure lying on a box in the ocean, and an angel overhead. It was as if, she had been to the Inspiration Point location before.

We will never know what Lauren's interactions were like with her father. Lauren, a child who was quite the chatterbox and loved to talk about her day, never talked to Sarah, Josh or Greg about her visits with Brown. That alone was so different than the Lauren they knew.

Corbie said...

Thank you so much for staying with this. Hard to believe that the little girl in the photos would've been 19 now. "Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small" seems apropos. The law is a leviathan--slow to get moving, but once it does...

Corbie said...

Also, I looked at my husband as I read this and told him that I couldn't imagine him standing trial, but if he did and if I felt he was innocent, hell and/or high water wouldn't stand in the way of my being there. I simply can't understand Brown's wife showing up after the victim impact statements, after the actual sentencing and only showing up when they were cleaning up the final details. That's just astounding to me. Especially astounding was her doing her best to harass a woman whose child was murdered and who has had to go through this many trials. Mrs. Brown is not a nice person in my book, to put it mildly.

Mort Snerd said...

Thank you for all your hard work and even the hardships you endured, to bring us this case. I appreciate the effort you put forward give us a real human perspective in your reporting what happens in the courtroom. God bless you.