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ANAHEIM : Prom Night Slaying Called 'Accidental'

August 20, 1991|MARK I. PINSKY

The defense in the prom night murder trial of a former high school football player outlined Monday for the first time its version of what happened in the darkened Anaheim hotel suite where a 17-year-old girl was shot to death June 1.

The attorney for Paul Michael Crowder, 19, of La Crescenta, said her client "tripped while getting ready to leave, going from one room to another . . . to wake a friend," firing his .357 Magnum pistol accidentally while "in a falling position" and killing Berlyn Fuentes Cosman, 17.

Defense attorney E. Bonnie Marshall argued that the second-degree murder charge against Crowder should be dismissed because police destroyed the mattress on which Cosman was sleeping when she was shot in the head at the Crown-Sterling Suites Hotel. Marshall said the mattress was crucial evidence.

Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard is scheduled this morning to rule on the motion to dismiss.

Millard also is expected to decide how seriously the loss of a blood-stained mattress harms Crowder's defense.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Gregg L. Prickett argued that no evidence had been offered that the police acted in bad faith in destroying the mattress.

Defense expert Lawrence L. Baggett, a retired Los Angles police officer and specialist in forensic ballistics, testified that he agreed that the bullet went directly from Crowder's gun to Cosman's head, then passed through the pillow case, through the mattress and struck the tubular metal frame beneath.

Baggett said the bullet's path through the mattress was important in determining the height of the gun when it was fired because there was no way to be certain of Cosman's position while she slept.

The mattress, Marshall said, would have indicated that the bullet was actually fired from a much lower angle than the prosecution asserts, indicating that Crowder fired the revolver by accident as he stumbled.

"Our defense was never based on who did it," Marshall said. "It was an accident. The trajectory of this bullet coming in is crucial."

Judge Millard seemed skeptical, asking repeatedly, "What difference does it make?" whether the shot was fired from a 60-degree angle, as the prosecution believes, or 30 degrees, as Baggett suggested.

Assuming the trajectory was 30 degrees, "how does that prove an accident?" Millard asked.

"If a person is stumbling, the trajectory is going to be far lower," Marshall explained. The prosecution's trajectory, she said, indicates "someone standing over someone and shooting them straight on."

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