SANTA ANA — Avoiding her father's sharp gaze, a Garden Grove teen-ager testified Wednesday that she gunned down her sleeping stepmother in their home five years ago because her father told her: "If you love me, you'll do this for me."
In a faint, childlike voice, Cinnamon Brown, 19, recounted how her father allegedly reviewed details of the murder plan for months beforehand and then, in the early morning hours of March 19, 1985, woke her up and declared, "It has to be done tonight."
The young woman's nearly four hours of often tearful testimony in Superior Court dominated the second day of the murder trial of her father, David Arnold Brown, 38, a former computer entrepreneur who stands accused of masterminding his wife's killing in a scheme driven by greed and passion.
Painting the father as a "diabolical manipulator" who set up his own daughter, prosecutors assert that Brown wanted his wife dead so that he could collect $835,000 in insurance and then secretly marry the victim's 17-year-old sister, Patti Bailey, who lived with the family.
Hours after the shooting death of 24-year-old Linda Brown, Cinnamon, then 14, was found in the family's back-yard doghouse, lying in a near-comatose state in her own vomit and clutching an apparent suicide note. Soon after, she was convicted of murder in Juvenile Court and sent to the California Youth Authority in Camarillo, where she has remained since.
For nearly four years after her stepmother's killing, under constant questioning from authorities, Cinnamon Brown kept silent about it, saying she could not remember the night of the murder. But in late 1988, she changed her story and pinned the blame on her father. Now she is a star witness against him.
David Brown also faces charges that, while in jail in early 1989, he paid a hit man $21,700 to assassinate two members of the Orange County district attorney's office and Patti Bailey--his new wife. Bailey has already pleaded guilty to murder in Juvenile Court for her role in the Linda Brown killing and is also a key witness against Brown.
At the outset of cross-examination late Wednesday, defense attorney Gary Pohlson sought to show that Cinnamon Brown's testimony was motivated not by a guilty conscience or concern for the truth, but rather by the hope that her cooperation could prompt an early release from the juvenile system. She is scheduled to be released at age 25, in 1995.
His voice rising as he confronted the witness, Pohlson demanded, "As you sit there right now, you expect this is going to help you get out a lot earlier than when you're 25, right?"
But Cinnamon Brown denied the assertion and clung to her testimony.
Throughout her testimony, as several would-be book and scriptwriters scribbled notes for what they envision as a sure-fire drama, Cinnamon Brown spoke in a voice barely audible in the eighth-floor courtroom of Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin.
She testified that her father convinced her that his wife wanted to kill him to get control of his million-dollar business.
Her stepmother had to be stopped before she could hurt her father, Cinnamon Brown said she believed at the time. Her father "said he didn't have the stomach for it," she testified. And besides, she added, he promised her that she would not spend any time behind bars because of her youth.
"I was too young to get in trouble--they would send me to a psychiatrist and send me home," she quoted her father as having told her.
She asserted that Brown made her and Patti Bailey "feel guilty" to get them to cooperate. For perhaps six months before the killing, she said, the three talked of ways of murdering Linda Brown--such as throwing an electrical appliance into the bathtub with her, pushing her out of a moving van or hitting her over the head.
The defendant, his daughter testified, went so far as to show her how to muffle the sounds of a .38-caliber gun with a pillow, how to write confession notes and how to feign suicide by taking some pills he had given her--a dosage prosecutors say was lethal.
"I was willing to do it because I loved him," Cinnamon Brown testified. "I didn't want to lose him."
She said that it was not until 1988, when authorities at the youth prison disclosed the insurance money her father had collected and his marriage to Patti that she began to question her loyalty to her father.
Until that point, she said, she believed that her father was trying to find ways to get her out of the CYA facility. "I trusted my father," she said. "Why would he tell me to do something that wasn't all right?"