SANTA ANA — Branding him a "master manipulator" more chilling than Charles Manson, a judge Monday ordered David Brown to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole for orchestrating his wife's 1985 murder.
"Mr. Brown, you're a scary person," Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin told the 37-year-old computer whiz, who was quickly convicted of murder in June by an Orange County jury for setting up his devoted 14-year-old daughter to murder his fifth wife while she slept.
While his daughter sat silently in prison for nearly four years, Brown collected $835,000 from the victim's insurance and lived in opulence in Anaheim Hills with his new wife--the victim's teen-aged sister--whom he recruited to aid in the murder and then secretly married.
In delivering the strongest sentence open to him, McCartin asserted that if the district attorney's office had pursued the death penalty against Brown, the judge might well have sent him to the gas chamber for his "unbelievable" and heinous crimes.
Brown's best hope for a more lenient sentence was to have McCartin strike down the jury's finding that he killed his wife for financial gain, thus opening up the possibility of parole. But the judge said there was ample evidence to suggest that the insurance money was "certainly a co-motive" in the crime and warranted life imprisonment.
"In my view," McCartin said in an interview, "he got a break when the D.A. dropped the death penalty. It would have been a tough call (for a judge) to make when you're dealing with someone who's never been in trouble with the law before . . . but this case is the most bizarre I've ever heard.
"It's hard to believe that someone could have that much control over other people," the judge added. Calling Brown a "master manipulator," he told him during the sentencing that he was amazed by his ability to betray those close to him and "not bat an eye."
"It makes Charles Manson look like a piker," said McCartin, who also handled the Randy Kraft serial murder trial in Orange County last year.
The sentencing itself was a relatively staid affair, proceeding much as expected by lawyers and others close to the case.
Brown's defense team immediately appealed the verdict. But lead counsel Gary M. Pohlson later acknowledged a "99% chance" that Brown will in fact spend the rest of his life in prison and said that "this is what we had prepared Mr. Brown for from the first moment."
In contrast, court documents revealed the emotional and tense dynamics played out among the players in the case in the weeks leading up to Monday's sentencing.
On June 22, six days after his murder conviction, Brown wrote his current wife, 22-year-old Patti Bailey, now imprisoned at the California Youth Authority for her role in the murder of her sister, 23-year-old Linda Brown, and implored her to hold onto their marriage.
In conversations secretly recorded in 1989, Brown plotted while in jail to pay a hit man to kill Bailey--a star witness against him--along with the district attorney in the case and the investigator, in an effort to thwart his prosecution. But in the letter, he insisted, "I never, never wanted you killed."
In what authorities described as a last-ditch attempt to get Bailey to incriminate herself, he told her: "I just want to know the truth. Did Linda die because you wanted me and loved me so much?"
In interviews, Bailey has said she will never forgive Brown. His daughter Cinnamon's own writings indicate that she already has, however.
A star witness against her father at his trial, Cinnamon testified that her father plotted for months with her and Patti to "off" Linda Bailey because of her supposed plot to take away Brown's business. Brown finally woke Cinnamon up one night in March, 1985, and told her to shoot her stepmother, then gave her some medication to feign suicide; in fact, prosecutors say that the dosage was lethal and that Cinnamon survived only because she threw it up.
Nonetheless, in an unsolicited letter delivered to Brown in early July, the 20-year-old woman told her father that "I will forget the bad times and when I think of you, it will only be the good times. . . ."
"I do want you to know that 'I love you, daddy,' and I always will," said Cinnamon, who is also imprisoned at the CYA but could be paroled in the coming weeks.
Even as that letter was being sent, Brown told probation officers preparing a report for his sentencing that his daughter was behind the murder plot and that "she's more dangerous than I am."
McCartin, highlighting that line and others during his sentencing, said that Brown's own words, as tape-recorded by police before and after his arrest in September, 1988, were his worst enemy.
In early 1989, for instance, authorities taped dozens of Brown's conversations with a fellow jailhouse inmate in which he promised to pay the would-be hit man hundreds of thousands of dollars--and actually delivered $22,700--to kill Bailey, the prosecutor and the investigator.