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Lawyer Says His Client Could Have Saved Kidnap-Murder Victim's Life

December 03, 1986|MARK LANDSBAUM | Times Staff Writer

REDLANDS — The defense attorney for Veronica Kay Koppers conceded Tuesday that Koppers could have saved the life of kidnap-murder victim Corinna D. Novis, 20, of Redlands had she gone straight to police when she learned of the abduction.

But it was not until about six days later, when questioned by a Redlands police investigator on Nov. 13, that Koppers said her brother, James Gregory Marlow, had told her that he "was holding somebody against her will" in a Fontana house, police testified at Koppers' preliminary hearing Tuesday.

On Nov. 15, police found Novis' bound body in a shallow grave in a Fontana vineyard. Authorities believe that she was kidnaped from a Redlands shopping mall on Nov. 7.

Koppers, 27, did not go to police--although she knew a woman was being held against her will--because she both feared and loved her brother, according to testimony during the hearing that was later corroborated by defense attorney Bruce M. Leyden.

Marlow, 30, and Cynthia Lynn Coffman, 24, who have pleaded not guilty in Novis' kidnap and murder, also are prime suspects in the kidnap and murder of Lynel Murray, a 19-year-old Huntington Beach college student, who was found dead Nov. 13 in a beachfront motel.

Awaits Hearing

Richard Drinkhouse, 28, has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnap for robbery and false imprisonment in connection with the Novis case and awaits his preliminary hearing.

It was at Drinkhouse's Fontana home on Nov. 7 where, Koppers told police, Marlow, Coffman and Drinkhouse were present when Marlow told her that he was holding an unidentified woman in a back bedroom.

At that point, Koppers exclaimed: "Oh my God! You mean you have her here?" according to Redlands Police Sgt. Thomas Fitzmaurice, who had questioned her.

Koppers had gone to the Fontana address to give her brother some clothes but left after learning of the abduction, Leyden said.

"We're not denying that in some sense she (Koppers) turned a blind eye at what was going on," Leyden said after Tuesday's hearing . Koppers "looked up to him (Marlow) for her protection. She put it out of her mind deliberately."

Koppers feared her brother because "she knows what he is capable of doing," Leyden said.

After hearing the testimony, Redlands Municipal Judge John Arden ordered Koppers to stand trial on charges of felony false imprisonment and receiving stolen property. Arden also added the more serious charge of accessory to murder.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ray Haight advised Arden that Koppers' involvement in the crime was greater than he originally believed and that he would file the additional accessory to murder charge when the case reaches San Bernardino County Superior Court. Arden also denied a defense motion to reduce Koppers' bail from $100,000.

Haight declined Tuesday to discuss the case outside of court.

After Tuesday's court appearance, Leyden said the additional charge may be intended "to raise the stakes; to increase the incentive for her (Koppers) to plead guilty and cooperate fully in the prosecution of her brother."

"It may change her mind," Leyden said.

Fear of Gas Chamber

He said Koppers "doesn't want to be involved in putting him (Marlow) in the gas chamber. She doesn't want to personally contribute to his execution."

Leyden said he believes Koppers can be acquitted of the charges because she never had any "evil intent."

"All she knew was there was a woman being held," Leyden said. "She didn't know who it (was). She didn't see that person."

"It's not a crime to see someone commit a crime and not report it," Leyden said. "It takes more than knowledge or being a witness to a crime. You have to do something or encourage its commission."

But Leyden conceded that "in hindsight, sure," Koppers could have saved Novis' life by going to police immediately.

"Everything," he said, "is possible in hindsight."

"She finds it difficult to face up to the fact that her brother did this," Leyden said. "She still cares a great deal about her brother."

Police Sgt. Fitzmaurice said Koppers told him that she "freaked" when Marlow said he was holding a woman against her will. Koppers told Marlow that "she did not wish to be involved and she wanted to leave," Fitzmaurice said.

Koppers told police that she saw Marlow and Coffman about 3 a.m. Nov. 9, when she gave them directions to Newport Beach but declined to accompany them. Koppers refused to get in the white automobile driven by the pair because she believed it to be stolen, Fitzmaurice said. Her description of the car matched that of Novis' missing white Honda, he said.

'Basically Decent Person'

In an unsuccessful attempt to have Koppers' $100,000 bail reduced, Leyden said in court: "She's no more than a basically decent person who has a rotten brother. Her involvement was without malice. . . . "

Fitzmaurice testified that he interviewed Koppers three times on Nov. 13, after determining that she had been at the Colton home of Curtis Robbeloth, where Novis' car had been spotted.

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