SANTA ANA — "The story that I'm about to tell you is a modern-day tragedy," the prosecutor began.
Sit back and take a deep breath, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey Robinson cautioned jurors Tuesday as he began his opening statement in the murder trial of David Arnold Brown, because "this is going to take a while."
He wasn't kidding. For the next 2 1/2 hours, Robinson talked of sibling rivalries and 3 a.m. gunshots, of lies and deceptions, of inflated insurance policies and secret marriages, of assassination plots and other twists that all allegedly tie back to Brown.
Brown, 38, is accused of masterminding the March 19, 1985, slaying of his wife, Linda Brown, 24, as she slept in their Garden Grove home. Hours later, her stepdaughter, Cinnamon Brown, then 14, was found in a near-comatose state in a back-yard doghouse. She was clutching an apparent suicide note that asked forgiveness for the attack.
Cinnamon was convicted that year in Linda Brown's murder and sent away to a juvenile facility.
But three years later, with the aid of a new version of events from Cinnamon, authorities brought forth a dramatically different explanation for the murder:
That David Brown had masterminded the whole scheme and persuaded his daughter to carry it out by telling her that Linda Brown supposedly wanted to take over his lucrative computer data retrieval business and that Cinnamon's age would preclude a harsh punishment.
Painting Brown as "a diabolic manipulator," Robinson told jurors during his opening statement Tuesday that Brown had "an uncanny ability to get other people to do his own bidding for him . . . at any cost." Cinnamon agreed to carry out the murder because "she believed in her dad so much that what he said was gospel," Robinson said.
Robinson asserted that money and passion motivated Brown to plot his wife's murder, down to the drug mixture that Cinnamon would take after the shooting and the suicide note she would leave.
Just before Linda Brown's murder, Brown took out several new insurance policies on her and ended up collecting $835,000 from her death, Robinson told jurors. He also secretly married the victim's own sister--Patti Bailey--and had a child with her, keeping the relationship from Cinnamon while she sat behind bars, Robinson said.
Patti Bailey, now 22, was arrested along with Brown in September, 1988. She has since pleaded guilty as a juvenile to murder charges for her role in her sister's killing and has agreed to testify against her husband.
But defense attorney Gary M. Pohlson told jurors that he would show the testimony of both Cinnamon Brown and Patti Bailey to be "lies" told "over and over and over again" to protect themselves against culpability.
"I agree with (Robinson) a lot about some of the facts. The story is basically the same," Pohlson said. "What the story means, I don't agree with him at all."
Pohlson asserted that Cinnamon Brown was angry at her stepmother and shot her to death against her father's wishes but is now trying to pin the blame on him,
Pohlson did concede, however, that his client took part in a scheme to assassinate Bailey, Robinson and a district attorney's investigator in an effort to thwart his prosecution. The scheme, including Brown's payment of $21,700 to a would-be hit man, was tape-recorded by authorities, leading to conspiracy charges against Brown.
But the defense attorney maintained that the scheme was not a reflection of a guilty man, as Robinson maintains, but rather of an innocent defendant who became "panicked" because he thought he was being "railroaded."