Patti Bailey, accused of aiding Anaheim computer entrepreneur David A. Brown in an elaborate scheme to kill her sister, was allowed to plead guilty to murder in juvenile court this week, a plea that drastically cuts her prospective jail time, officials disclosed Thursday.
Having agreed to cooperate with authorities, the 21-year-old Bailey is now a key witness in the murder case against her husband, Brown, 36, the alleged mastermind of the murder plot.
The Riverside woman and Brown were married about 17 months after they allegedly conspired in 1985 to murder Linda Brown, who was Brown's wife and Bailey's sister. The pair then allegedly set up Brown's daughter to take the blame for the crime and collected $835,000 from the victim's life insurance.
The plea arrangement struck with district attorney's officials means that Bailey, a juvenile offender because she was 17 at the time of the killing, will spend less than 4 years in a California Youth Authority facility, her attorney said.
Bailey, now 21, was originally to have been tried as an adult and, if convicted of murder, would have faced 25 years to life in state prison.
As a result of her plea in juvenile court in Orange on Wednesday, Bailey's record will be sealed and effectively wiped clean of the conviction when she is freed at or before age 25, her attorney said. Juvenile proceedings are not public.
"I pleaded guilty because I know that what I did was wrong, real wrong," Bailey said in an interview in the Orange County Jail. She maintained that a guilty conscience--not the prospect of a lesser sentence--prompted her plea and that, in fact, she thought she could still face 25 years to life in prison.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey Robinson, who is prosecuting the bizarre case, asserted in an interview that there were "no deals" struck for Bailey.
But her attorney, Donald G. Rubright, while saying that he got "no promises" from prosecutors, acknowledged that "I had had discussions with the D.A. and was given assurances that she would benefit from her cooperation."
Says He Didn't Tell Her
The defense attorney said that he did not mention these assurances to Patti Bailey at the time she was deciding whether to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against her husband.
Bailey wound up speaking out against Brown at his Municipal Court preliminary hearing in January, testifying that he talked her and his daughter, Cinnamon Brown, into aiding in the plan to kill Linda Brown.
Joel Baruch, defense attorney for David Brown, said of the plea: "It's a great deal for her. It's clear that she's getting a break for her testimony.
"That's the way the D.A. operates. They just bought themselves a witness," Baruch said. He contended that the incentives offered to Bailey have distorted her testimony, essentially clearing her and David Brown's daughter of responsibility in the killing at Brown's expense.
Baruch said he will try to show at Brown's murder trial, which may begin this summer, that Brown never wanted his wife dead and is now the unwitting target of lies told by Bailey and his daughter, Cinnamon Brown. Before his arrest last September, Brown ran a successful computer firm in Anaheim that specialized in recovering data from damaged systems.
At the time of the killing, Cinnamon Brown, then 14--admitted shooting her stepmother as the 23-year-old woman slept in their Garden Grove home one night in March, 1985. Cinnamon Brown was found in a doghouse that night, apparently drugged in a failed suicide attempt.
But while serving time in a California Youth Authority facility for the crime, Cinnamon Brown contacted authorities last fall and--after several changes in her story--told them that she participated in the plot only under the prodding and orchestration of her father.
David Brown, asserting that his wife was plotting to kill him if she was not stopped first, coached Cinnamon Brown in how to carry out the murder and said she would serve little or no time behind bars because of her age, the daughter said.
Pulled the Trigger
Cinnamon Brown had initially denied any part in the killing, but investigators now believe--and she has acknowledged--that she was the one who pulled the trigger because her father "didn't have the stomach for it." She is still incarcerated.
As for Bailey's role in the killing, Bailey and her attorney said she knew of and participated in the plans to kill her sister.
On the night of the murder, they said, Bailey helped Cinnamon Brown work out the mechanics of the gun, encouraged her to go ahead with the plan and made sure that Brown's infant daughter was safe as the killing was carried out.
"I'm just sorry it ever happened," Bailey said in the jailhouse interview. "I just wish I could make it all go away. . . . You never realize how much you miss someone until she's gone, and I'd give anything in the world to have her back now."
On the terms of her plea, Bailey said: "I have to live with this for the rest of my life. I don't think I'm getting off easy."