A man was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder for throwing his 4-year-old daughter from a 120-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes nearly 15 years ago.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated about 1 1/2 days before returning its verdict against Cameron John Brown, a 53-year-old former airport baggage handler, who has been in jail for nearly 12 years in connection with the Nov. 8, 2000, death of Lauren Sarene Key.
The six-man, six-woman jury — which was the third panel to hear the case against Brown — also found true the special circumstance allegations of murder for financial gain and murder while lying in wait, which carry a mandatory life prison term without the possibility of parole.
Brown is set to be sentenced June 19 by Judge George G. Lomeli.
Two previous juries deadlocked, with all 24 of those jurors indicating that they believed Brown was guilty but deadlocking on whether he should be convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.
The first jury to hear the case deadlocked in Torrance 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 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom voted in favor of convicting Brown of second-degree murder, while the other six favored involuntary manslaughter.
Brown showed no apparent reaction when the verdict was read.
“It’s been a long time. It’s been 15 years and finally we have justice for Lauren,” Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum told reporters. “In the other prior trials, no juror has ever voted not guilty. It was only a matter of degree and it was obviously very good news for us that they all managed to agree on this verdict.”
In a statement, defense attorney Aron Laub said he “argued for a verdict of involuntary manslaughter because I sincerely believe that is what happened in this case. I have great confidence in our jury system, but I cannot agree that this was a just verdict.”
The jury’s foreman, Greg Apodaca, said the panel wanted to acknowledge those who had “invested several years in this case.”
“We appreciate the evidence they provided for us to consider … and feel we have delivered justice,” he said. “Well, the experts made it pretty clear, and when we did the site visit, it was clear to us, as well. It didn’t seem likely that a 4-year-old girl would be up there of her own volition.”
Speaking directly to the girl’s mother, another juror, Sheila Janis, said, “I’m sorry for your death of your baby, but justice has finally been served. All the evidence was there.”
The girl’s mother, Sarah Key-Marer, cried after the verdict was announced.
Shortly afterward, she told reporters that she was in shock and wanted to thank the jurors and the witnesses.
“All I ever wanted was that he would take responsibility for what happened that day so I’m thankful for God for carrying me and my family and my friends through this time,” she said. “Lauren was our gift from God, the best thing that ever happened to us.”
Brown threw the tot off the isolated tip of Inspiration Point out of hatred for her mother, Hum said.
“I think it’s very clear that the main motivation for the defendant in this case was just revenge,” the prosecutor told reporters after the verdict. “He hated Sarah so much that he was willing to go to these lengths to get back at her. Obviously the financial motive was a factor, but it was primarily his hatred of Sarah, of Lauren’s mother, that propelled this.”
The prosecutor told jurors that Brown unsuccessfully tried to convince Key-Marer to get an abortion when he first learned she was pregnant and subsequently tried to have her deported. Hum told the panel that Brown showed no interest in meeting his daughter until she was over 3 years old, and 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 that he had been ordered to pay.
Hum told jurors it was “clear that Lauren did not slip and fall,” but was picked up and thrown off the cliff to her death. The prosecutor questioned Brown’s statement to investigators that he “could barely keep up with this 4- year-old little girl” when she led them to Inspiration Point, which is unfenced and has steep cliffs that plummet 120 feet.
Brown’s attorney countered that the girl fell to her death in a tragic accident and denied that his client had any hatred for the child’s mother.
“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.
In wrapping up his closing argument Monday, Laub attempted to guide 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 has been jailed without bail since his arrest in November 2003.
—City News Service
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