SANTA ANA — It is a tale so rich in sensational twists and unlikely characters--a wife murdered in her bed, a stepdaughter found drugged in a doghouse with a note of confession, a sister tied romantically to the alleged killer, and a husband accused of masterminding the whole scheme--that the Hollywood scriptwriters have barely been able to wait for its finale.
Now comes the finale.
David Arnold Brown, a former millionaire computer businessman from Anaheim Hills, goes on trial today in Superior Court in Santa Ana on charges of orchestrating the March 19, 1985, murder of his 23-year-old wife in a contorted quest of greed and passion.
Prosecutors will try to prove that the smooth-talking Brown tricked his teen-age daughter into shooting her stepmother, then collected $835,000 in insurance and secretly married the victim's younger sister--while the daughter sat silently in prison for more than three years.
It was not until late 1988 that the daughter, Cinnamon Brown, broke her silence and came forth with a new story: that her father made her kill Linda Marie Brown as she slept because he "didn't have the stomach for it."
But before a jury ever hears about that alleged scheme, a judge has to decide whether to allow evidence on a second set of conspiracy allegations that lawyers agree could prove to be "dynamite" for Brown:
That, while in jail, he allegedly paid a hit man $22,700 to knock off two members of the district attorney's office and his current wife in a foiled plot to thwart his prosecution. His wife was the victim's sister and is now a star witness against him.
Those involved in the bizarre case agree that if a jury ever hears about the hit-man scheme --complete with tape-recorded jailhouse conversations--Brown's hopes for acquittal could be sharply curtailed.
Brown's attorneys, part of a new defense team brought in last year, will try to show at pretrial hearings beginning today that the jailhouse plot has nothing to do with the Linda Brown murder and should not be admitted as evidence.
Defense attorney Gary Pohlson conceded bluntly: "If that second case gets in, it just opens up a whole Pandora's box of problems for us. Even if the guy were absolutely not guilty of the first crime but maybe panicked and participated in this (jailhouse assassination) plan, it would be very, very difficult for anyone to believe he's not guilty" of the murder.
Several months after Brown was arrested in September, 1988, for the murder of Linda Marie Brown, prosecutors say, he worked with fellow Orange County Jail inmate Richard Steinhart to plot the assassinations of Jeoffrey Robinson, the prosecutor in the case; Jay Newell, the district attorney's investigator who was troubled by the initial story of the Linda Brown murder; and Brown's current wife, Patti Bailey, who has since pleaded guilty to murder for her role in the killing.
Authorities say they caught on to the scheme through a tip from a third inmate. Then, they persuaded Steinhart to cooperate. After Steinhart was released from jail, he wore a bug to record his several dozen conversations with Brown. The pair also talked about diverting suspicion from Brown by making it appear as though he, too, were the target of an assault.
The elaborate setup culminated in a Feb. 13, 1988, phone conversation in which, according to tapes obtained by The Times, Steinhart falsely told Brown that he had just shot and killed Robinson and Newell. "Bang, bang--right in the back of the head!" he reported.
Brown, talking softly but excitedly in the close confines of the jail, responded: "Wonderful! You're a good man. . . . You did great."
A week later, additional charges of conspiracy and attempted murder were lodged against Brown. His alleged targets all remained unharmed and active in his prosecution.
Brown's lawyers assert that he was pressured into the scheme by Steinhart and the third inmate, who wanted to cooperate with authorities as a way to aid their own cases. In an interview last year, Brown also maintained that Steinhart threatened to hurt his family if he did not cooperate.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Robinson doesn't buy it. To him, the jailhouse plot marks a killer's desperate attempt to escape prosecution--in the legal lexicon, a dramatic illustration of his "consciousness of guilt."
For that reason, Robinson will try to persuade Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin that evidence of the plot is critical to the murder trial.
"It demonstrates just how far this guy will go to accomplish his goals," Robinson said.
Even before the alleged jailhouse plot, however, the sheer drama of the Linda Brown murder case was enough to attract the interest of longtime court watchers, national television shows such as "A Current Affair," and movie and television producers and scriptwriters.
Several scriptwriters sat through Brown's preliminary hearing last year. They plan to return for the trial.
Present, too, will be members of a family ripped apart by the drama.