A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that a man took his 4-year-old daughter on a “dangerous hike” and then threw her off a 120-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes nearly 15 years ago, while a defense attorney countered that the girl fell to her death in a tragic accident.
The six-man, six-woman panel is the third to hear the case against Cameron John Brown, 53, who is charged with murder in the death of his daughter, Lauren Sarene Key, off the isolated tip of Inspiration Point on Nov. 8, 2000.
The first jury to hear the case deadlocked in August 2006 at the Torrance courthouse, with eight panelists favoring a second-degree murder conviction and two each lobbying for first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
The case was subsequently moved to the downtown Los Angeles criminal courthouse, where jurors deadlocked in Brown’s second trial in October 2009. Six jurors voted in favor of convicting Brown of second-degree murder, while the other six favored involuntary manslaughter.
In his opening statement in the latest trial, Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said the evidence will refute Brown’s claim that what happened to his daughter was accidental.
The prosecutor told jurors that it will be “clear that Lauren did not slip and fall,” but was picked up and thrown off the cliff to her death.
Brown had unsuccessfully tried to convince the girl’s mother to have an abortion and subsequently showed no interest in his daughter for “most of her life” until after her mother sought child support, the prosecutor said.
“In November of 1999, when Lauren is over 3 years old, the defendant finally gets around to meeting her,” Hum said, telling jurors that Brown was advised that he needed to request visitation if he wanted a reduction in the monthly child support payments of about $1,000 he had been ordered to pay.
The prosecutor questioned Brown’s statement to investigators that he “could barely keep up with this 4-year-old little girl” who led them to Inspiration Point, which is unfenced and has steep cliffs that plummet 120 feet.
He said Brown went a circuitous route to borrow a cell phone to call 911 and spent 5 1/2 minutes with a 911 operator while his daughter floated face- down in the water.
“Murdering Lauren was the ultimate payback to this woman he despised,” Hum said of Brown’s contentious child support dispute with the girl’s mother.
The prosecutor said Brown had “spent a total of about two weeks” with his daughter, saying, “there was no relationship, none at all.”
Brown’s attorney, Aron Laub, told jurors that “two tragedies are going to unfold before you in this courtroom” — that the girl “tragically fell to her death” and that Brown is being prosecuted for her death.
“He said it was an accident … The police didn’t believe him,” Laub told the jury. “From the beginning of the investigation, the investigation was biased.”
The defense attorney noted that Brown voluntarily went to the sheriff’s station to speak with investigators, who did not record his statement despite “trying to prove this case as a murder.”
Laub told jurors that his client “took an interest” in the girl and sought to have visits with her after a paternity test proved he was her father.
“He’s a man who didn’t hurt animals. He didn’t hurt people ever,” Brown’s attorney said of the avid outdoorsman.
The girl’s mother, Sarah Key-Marer, was called as the prosecution’s first witness. She testified that she recalled while they were dating that Brown had pointed to a cliff and told her that two children had died there a week or two earlier.
“It upset me … I was very distraught,” she said. “It stuck in my mind.”
Brown could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder, and if jurors find true the special circumstance allegations of murder for financial gain and murder while lying in wait.
Brown was arrested three years after his daughter’s death and has been jailed without bail since then.
— City News Service