lady justice 2 16-9

Jurors wrapped up their first day of deliberations Tuesday in the third trial of a man charged with murdering his 4-year-old daughter, who plunged to her death from a 120-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes nearly 15 years ago.

The six-man, six-woman panel — which is set to return to court Wednesday morning to continue its deliberations — is the third to hear the case against Cameron John Brown, a 53-year-old former airport baggage handler.

The first jury to hear the case deadlocked in August 2006, with eight panelists favoring a second-degree murder conviction and two each lobbying for first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. In 2009, six jurors voted in favor of convicting Brown of second-degree murder, while the other six favored involuntary manslaughter.

In his closing argument in the latest trial, Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury that Brown threw Lauren Sarene Key off the the isolated tip of Inspiration Point on Nov. 8, 2000, out of hatred for her mother and a “desire for revenge.”

Defense attorney Aron Laub countered that the girl accidentally fell to her death, but acknowledged that his client might be guilty of manslaughter.

The prosecution presented about 45 witnesses during the roughly six-week trial, and Hum asked the jurors to try and recall the impact of emotional testimony by Lauren’s mother, Sarah Key-Marer.

“The primary reason for killing Lauren … was to get back at Sarah, for revenge,” the prosecutor said.

Brown had tried to coerce Key-Marer into getting an abortion when he first learned she was pregnant, and subsequently tried to have her deported, according to the prosecution. Hum said Brown never had anything to do with the child until he realized that the best way to avoid paying child support of $1,000 each month was to request joint custody.

“He didn’t want her to be born … he wanted nothing to do with being a father,” Hum said.

Repeatedly accusing Brown of “flat-out lie(s),” the prosecutor mocked the defense argument that Brown was led up the hiking trail to Inspiration Point by his daughter and could barely keep up with the 4-year-old. Brown told detectives that the girl was running and throwing rocks off the edge of the cliff before she vanished from sight as his back was turned.

Hum pointed to an expert witness who testified that the child’s injuries were “not consistent with a slip or a trip” but the result of an “assisted drop,” which the prosecutor called “a nice way of saying she was thrown.”

Lauren’s footprints were not found at the area from which she plunged — an unfenced spot atop a steep 120-foot drop, the prosecutor said.

Brown’s attorney told jurors that two experts testifying for the prosecution came to “dramatically opposed conclusions” about what happened.

Laub said one expert testified for the prosecution that Lauren’s injuries were caused when she hit the ground at the bottom of the cliff, while a second testified that her body must have struck the face of the cliff as she plummeted to her death, though Hum stressed that both agreed the girl’s death was a homicide and not an accident.

Laub noted that a defense expert testified that Lauren could have tripped and fallen in a way that was consistent with her fatal injuries.

“The prosecution’s case is actually a magic show” filled with contradictions and relying on “sleight of hand or misdirection,” the defense attorney said.

“A horrible tragedy occurred and people become emotionally committed to wanting to solve it regardless of what the facts are,” Laub said, characterizing testimony by some prosecution witnesses as “emotionally upsetting” but “legally irrelevant.”

Laub said there were two tragedies: “the death of a 4-year-old” and “the prosecution of Cameron Brown” and denied that his client had any hatred for Key-Marer.

“Unfortunately, with custody issues, this is sort of business as usual,” he said of his client’s filing of a false police report of abuse against Key-Marer and reports that the girl was crying when Brown came to pick her up from school that day.

The prosecution contends that 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.

Hum told jurors that Brown was “cold, indifferent, he’s not in shock, he’s just disinterested,” recalling testimony by first responders that they’d never seen such a reaction.

Laub said his client’s “way of responding to upset is to withdraw” and argued that a murderer would have deliberately faked tears.

However, in wrapping up his closing argument, Laub guided jurors toward a guilty verdict on a lesser charge of manslaughter, reading out the charge in full before saying it should be given “serious thought.”

“This father, who had this duty to hold her hand or hold her … didn’t do it,” the defense attorney said. “Honestly, I have a hard time seeing a not guilty (verdict) … I am looking for what is justice.”

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 in November 2003 in connection with his daughter’s death and has been jailed without bail since then.

— City News Service

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