Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The 995 Motion to Dismiss

Before we review the relevant issues proffered in Geragos’s 995 motion, it's important to highlight a few facts that the defense did not discuss, but that we hope the People bring forth in the trial.

  • Similar to Peterson’s long-distance fishing trip to the Bay when there were dozens of closer waterways that were better suited to his boat, Cameron Brown took his daughter in mid-afternoon in November to Abalone Cove/Inspiration Point, an inconvenient and inappropriate area for a child, passing up hundreds of better playgrounds in safer areas with friendlier topography.
  • Brown was familiar with Abalone Cove and Inspiration Point, and may have recalled seeing a playground in the area; but, the playground is part of a private nursery school and is not intended for public use. Why would Brown, with only a few hours of visitation, choose to trespass on a rinky-dink nursery school playground rather than access any number of big, public playgrounds with better equipment? No parent on that jury will find that reasonable. Most will infer that the trip to the cove was part of a premeditated plan, just as Peterson’s trip to the bay made no sense to anyone, no matter how Geragos tried to spin the “fishermen drive 90 miles to fish for an hour on Christmas Eve” nonsense.

  • Sarah Key and Cameron Brown settled a civil suit (wrongful death) back in October 2001. From the court record, it appears that an insurance company (perhaps a life insurance policy?) paid Key for liability of Brown’s actions, based on his admission that the incident was the result of an accident. However, the case was dismissed with “partial prejudice,” meaning that some issues may be retried, and if Brown is found guilty of murder in a criminal trial, the insurance company that settled with Key may go after him for reimbursement.

  • Key's acceptance of the settlement does not have any bearing on criminal charges levied at Brown by the State of California. If, in 2001, she accepted Brown's version of events, so what? She obviously changed her mind when the investigation showed that her daughter was thrown off the cliff. Despite Brown's apologists' protestations, the insurance company's settlement in the lawsuit is irrelevant to the issue of his criminal culpability.

  • Cameronomics: It is possible that Brown was in arrears with his child support in the neighborhood of $40,000. According to CA child support law, Brown’s obligation began August 1996, the date of Lauren’s birth. By the time Key secured a court order for support, Brown was not only being garnished the $1,000 a month, he was also paying a percentage of the arrears and forfeiting any income tax refunds and other bonuses until the arrears were paid. Just as in Peterson, when examining the real ledger, the financial motive becomes much more significant. Prepare for Geragos to try and point out how financially solvent Brown and his new wife were, and that the monthly support was not debilitating. He will conveniently omit the arrears.

  • California v. Reardon – It would behoove Geragos and his crackerjack researchers to review the 1992 murder trial in San Diego County where the defendants were convicted of pushing a young woman off a cliff near Big Sur to collect on a $35,000 life insurance policy they had recently taken out on the victim. The prosecution in that case brought the jurors to the scene of the crime and reenacted their theory of events. If the prosecutors in Brown are on their game, they will beef up their demonstration, or request a field trip for the jury.

The 995 Motion

The main evidence against Brown is the autopsy report that concluded that Lauren died from head injuries sustained from the impact of a long fall, and that those injuries were inconsistent with rolling down a cliff. Geragos includes a summary of these findings in his motion:

Deputy medical examiner Ogbonna Chinwah classified Lauren's death as a homicide. He testified that Lauren's injuries were inconsistent with an accidental fall. Dr. Chinwah opined that an individual who falls inadvertently from the edge of a cliff would have injuries all over the body because he or she "would seek a means not to die. The individual would try to grasp at anything that is available there." Consequently, "there will be abrasions all over the arms, all over the abdomen, the legs and so forth, which were quite absent in this case here." Dr. Chinwah further testified that the injuries were consistent with one impact from a fall.

I have not been able to procure a copy of the entire autopsy report, but there is one page available on Brown’s brother-in-law, Kaldis’s Web site that describes a number of abrasions on the chest area, abdomen and extremities, and severe contusions on her forehead and other skull fractures. Notably, there were no injuries on the front of the arms or on the inside of the hands, where you would expect them to be if Lauren had slipped and fallen instead of having bounced off rocks and jutting ridges in her descent.

Adult-size shoe prints were found near the edge of the cliff, but no impressions of a child’s foot. This fact inspired Brown to invent an entirely new scenario whereby Lauren ran toward the edge of the cliff and somehow tripped and catapulted off, rather than merely slipping as he claimed in his first few stories. Expect the defense to attempt to create reasonable doubt from this unlikely revisionism and from selected injuries in the autopsy report that support an accidental fall. Nonetheless, the jury will be privy to the entire report and testimony from several experts on these types of injuries. Unlike in Peterson, where there was a dearth of scientific information on the condition of pregnant women immersed in salt water for four months, there is a plethora of good data on the distinct injuries obtained from various types of falls.

And, as expected, we have Cameronomics:

Jane Ngo, a supervising investigative auditor for the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, testified that 39 percent of Cameron's salary was garnished for purposes of child support. Following a review of Cameron's financial records and credit reports, she concluded that the child support payments created a severe financial hardship on Cameron. Interestingly, she failed to factor into her analysis income by Cameron's wife.

While I do not have access to Brown’s credit report yet, I will go out on a limb and speculate that Brown, based on his friends’ letters of support describing his expensive toys and hobbies, was in hock up to his eyeballs and suffered severe hardship from the child support garnishment. Let’s hope the People have a good forensic accountant to testify to the actual state of Brown’s financial affairs.

A biomedical engineer, Dr. Wilson Hayes, testified at the grand jury hearing that “Lauren’s cause of death was intentional.” Geragos disputes his findings because “Hayes’ s research involved the study of falling in the elderly” and had no experience in “studies of falling in children,” as if children and the elderly are separate species. We already know from Geragos’s obtuse arguments in Peterson that he knows nothing about fetal development, pregnancy, women’s health or babies; thus, his ignorance of children’s physiology comes as no surprise.

Dr. Hayes's damning conclusions (edited for brevity):

1) Lauren Key-Marer died as a direct consequence of a single, high speed impact to the cliff face at Inspiration Point…

2) These injuries are inconsistent with a slip and/or trip and fall from the point of departure …

3) Lauren's fatal injuries were, however, consistent with her having been thrown from the point of departure at an angle of about 22.5 degrees from the horizontal at an initial velocity of 10 ft/s in an initial orientation with her feet down and the force applied lightly above the center of gravity.

4) The fall trajectory that would produce such an impact is well within the physical capabilities of a reasonably fit adult male and can be produced by picking up the child, supporting her under the buttocks and pushing forcefully at a point slightly above the waist in an outward and slightly upward direction.

Geragos goes on for the next 20 pages of the motion to attempt to refute Hayes’s expertise, the acceptance of his scientific methods (re: the requirements of Kelly-Frye), and to cite cases that refer to falls from stairs and other experiments that have no direct bearing on Hayes’s findings.

After slogging through the usual claptrap (summarily rejected by the judge), I discovered what may be the key elements of Geragos’s defense:

  • Since Hayes didn’t conduct any of his “throwing experiments” at the actual site of the “accident,” they are invalid as evidence. Geragos must think the laws of physics and gravity somehow differ at Inspiration Point. I hope this argument will be debunked with onsite testing data at trial.

  • Dr. Hayes did not mention in his report or at the grand jury proceedings any experiments to determine the trajectory of a fall where the child runs (rather than walks) and trips off the cliff.

    I will dub this preposterous hypothesis “The Incredible Running Leap” defense. At best, this would show Brown to be a brainless menace to society; at worst it will be laughed out of court.

  • Case law is also clear that an indictment based solely on hearsay or otherwise incompetent evidence is unauthorized and must be set aside on motion under section 995...scientific evidence [must] be relevant and reliable to be admissible.

    This argument is reminiscient of Geragos’s ludicrous claims in Peterson that GPS was a “fairly new technology” and that the dog tracking evidence was “voodoo.”

  • Already with an eye on appellate issues, Geragos argues that conducting an experiment using anthropomorphic dummies to simulate the fall of a child down a flight of stairs did not satisfy the Kelly-Frye test because the methodology is not generally accepted in the scientific community; therefore, Hayes’s prejudicial findings would be inadmissible in the Brown trial.

I found the Dellinger appellate case Geragos cited, which contained this important opinion:

We have not undertaken the monumental and inappropriate task of evaluating the legitimacy of the entire field of biomechanics. Rather we have restricted our review to the cavalier throwing of an anthropomorphic dummy down a flight of stairs and confirming the results with a finite element analysis. The field of biomechanics was not on trial here; only the reliability of the two procedures employing biomechanical principles used by Dr. Ward.

Regarding the scientific acceptance of anthropomorphic dummies, here are some common applications:

Anthropomorphic 'crash test dummies' are commonly used by vehicle manufacturers and research organizations to determine the exact effects that crashes have on vehicle occupants.

The U.S. Military has used Anthropomorphic Test Dummies since the 1950's. These dummies were utilized during high altitude balloon tests, ejection seat tests, all sorts of crash tests and of course parachute tests.

Geragos tries to further discredit Hayes for lacking expertise in the biomechanics of children’s falls (truly desperate); that Hayes failed to factor in the possible “incredible running leap” theory; and continued reiteration of the complaint that Hayes didn’t hike up to Inspiration Point and throw his 40-pound bag off the actual cliff.

From these anemic points, I can only conclude that Geragos is either a master of self-sabotage, or a genius avenger disguised as a high-profile defense attorney.

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