SANTA ANA — Paul M. Crowder, accused of killing high school basketball star Berlyn Cosman on her prom night, testified Tuesday that he considered the teen-ager a good friend and never intended to shoot her.
Crowder, 19, fought tears as he detailed the moments before dawn on June 1, when his .357 magnum went off, killing the Crescenta Valley High School senior as she slept on a fold-out couch after a post-dance celebration at the Crown-Sterling Suites Hotel in Anaheim.
"I pushed open the door," Crowder said, his voice tight. "I tripped. And when I was going down, the gun went off."
The lights snapped on and after a few seconds of searching for the bullet, Crowder said, he realized it had struck Cosman. Defense attorney E. Bonnie Marshall asked him what he had thought at that moment.
"That she was dead," Crowder replied.
Crowder, a former football player and Crescenta Valley High dropout, is accused of killing Cosman, 17, after she and a girlfriend refused to let him party in the suite where they were trying to sleep.
Exploring Crowder's contention that the gun accidentally discharged as he stumbled, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans made Crowder demonstrate how he tripped while pushing open the hotel room door with his left hand and holding the gun with his right.
Crowder, wearing black slacks and a gray sweater, stepped from the witness stand and two bailiffs edged closer. As he crouched in front of the jury box, the panelists craned their necks to watch and news photographers clicked away.
Beginning the second week of his trial in Orange County Superior Court, Crowder testified that Cosman often "kicked back" at his house with him, watching television and talking, and that they occasionally double-dated.
As Cosman's father listened from the front row of the spectator section and Crowder's two younger brothers listened from the rear, Crowder described the early hours of the party, as he and more than a dozen other teen-agers smoked, drank beer and played cards.
As dawn drew near and many of the youths fell asleep, Cosman's friend, Jill Caballero, ejected him from the suite because Cosman and her date were "drunk and wanted to pass out," he said.
"She goes, 'Well, you guys are still partying, you can find somewhere else to sleep,' " Crowder testified.
Crowder said he was "hurt" but not angry, and that he exchanged no heated words with anyone. He called the incident a "misunderstanding."
Earlier witnesses testified that Crowder was enraged and stormed out of the room, telling friends in another suite that he hated the girls and wanted to kill them.
Testifying so softly that he was barely audible at times, Crowder said he "might" have called Jill a bitch later, but only in the way an annoyed brother might about his sister. He said Cosman had "nothing to do" with the disagreement.
Crowder said he returned to Cosman's suite near dawn because he wanted a ride home and the driver was sleeping on the floor in that room. When Evans asked why he carried the gun down the hallway, Crowder said it was because it had been lying on the table and hadn't been put away.
Crowder testified that he brought the gun with him that night to keep it away from his two younger brothers, who were home alone, and because he was in unfamiliar territory.
"I'd never been to Orange County before," Crowder said. "For all I knew, it could have been like South-Central Los Angeles."
Other teen-agers have testified that Crowder repeatedly waved the gun at the party, pointed it at people and loaded and unloaded the weapon, calling it "my baby" and even pressing it into one teenager's buttock.
But Crowder either denied that most of those things had happened or said he did not remember them.