Opposing lawyers asked a Lancaster jury Monday to decide whether Belita Fox is a calculating, remorseless killer or a good mother whose motive for shooting a construction worker to death last year was to stop a him from corrupting her 17-year-old daughter.
In closing arguments, defense and prosecuting attorneys painted contrasting portraits of Fox and the man she killed, Kevin Furman, and of the small house on a dirt road in Lancaster where Furman was shot four times in his bed just after midnight Aug. 30.
Fox, 41, has testified at her murder trial in Lancaster Superior Court that she was drunk the night she went to Furman's house to warn Furman not to give drugs to her runaway daughter Cheryl. Fox said she shot Furman because he rose and moved at her menacingly. Her daughter was not at the house at the time.
But prosectors cite physical evidence and a witness's testimony that Fox shot Furman, 23, repeatedly as he lay in bed, with one bullet hitting him in the back, and then sat by the bed as Furman died, failing to summon help for about 40 minutes.
Defense attorney Vincent Oliver told the jury that Fox is only guilty of "being a mother who wanted to protect her child." He called Furman and his roommate Ron McCreary, the only witness to the shooting, "drug scum" who ran a house where methamphetamine and other drugs were used, sold and given to teen-agers.
"You've seen the news on television," Oliver said. He said the drug problem is "absolutely tearing our country apart. These are not good people. . . . Is there any wonder why Belita Fox was concerned about her daughter?"
Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Foltz scoffed at the descriptions of a drug house and of Fox as a sympathetic figure. He accused Fox of lying, feigning emotion during often tearful testimony and irrationally blaming Furman for drug-related family problems involving Cheryl and her stepfather.
"This is not a crank house, whatever that is, just because people do crank in the house," Foltz said. "This is not a reasonable person. . . . She tried him, she judged him and she executed him."
McCreary admitted buying drugs from Furman twice and seeing Cheryl use drugs at the house. But he also testified that Furman did not let Cheryl or other minors at the house use drugs. Homicide detectives have said they found no evidence that Furman was a dealer.
Oliver called McCreary's account of the shooting biased and questioned the credibility of another key prosecution witness, Cynthia Wilson, a cocktail waitress who testified that Fox drank at a bar about four hours before the incident and talked of killing a man.
"You do not have an objective witness up here testifying on the most critical issue on the case," Oliver said. He said the prosecution did not prove that Fox planned the crime, which is required for a first-degree murder conviction.
But Foltz said Wilson, who admitted that she disliked Fox, did not have enough motive to lie. He said further evidence of premeditation was a phone call Fox made to Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies a week before the shooting to report drug activity at Furman's house. Fox gave only vague information because her true motive was to build an alibi for a murder she was already planning, Foltz said.
"She may be pitiful," he said. "She may be a mother. Her family may have been leaving her. But that does not mean that she gets to go out and kill people in order to get back the emotions she hasn't been getting from her family."
The jury will begin deliberating today after receiving instructions from Judge Margaret Grignon. They can convict Fox as charged, convict her of a lesser crime such as second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, or acquit her altogether, prosecutors said.
If convicted as charged, Fox faces from 27 years to life in prison, Foltz said.