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Jury Expected to Start Deliberations in McKeever Case Today : Trial: The Moorpark man, alternately described as caring parent and pathological liar, faces life in prison for alleged murder attempt related to custody battle.

May 04, 1993|JEFF McDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The case of James R. McKeever--alternately described as a hard-working, caring parent and a pathological liar obsessed with wartime subterfuge--is expected to go to the jury today.

McKeever, of Moorpark, could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty of premeditated attempted murder, is accused of trying to kill John Monroe and Charlene Mayer by throwing a homemade pipe bomb through the bedroom window of their Simi Valley home on Nov. 21.

Monroe was able to cover the bomb with blankets from the couple's bed before it went off, but he and Mayer suffered moderate injuries in the explosion.

In her closing argument in Ventura County Superior Court Monday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Donna W. Thonis characterized McKeever, 43, as a jealous man who was obsessed with ruining Monroe.

McKeever's wife, Karen Dunlop, was once married to Monroe, and the former couple were engaged in a stormy battle over custody of their 7-year-old son.

The evidence is circumstantial, but all the pieces presented in the monthlong trial add up to a conviction, Thonis told the jury.

For example, propane canisters identical to the one used in the bomb were found in McKeever's garage, Thonis said. Also found in the garage was a full bottle of bleach--the same brand as the bleach used to construct the bomb, she said.

But Deputy Public Defender Jean L. Farley said the prosecution has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McKeever was the bomber. She suggested that the evidence points more toward Monroe as the culprit in a devious attempt to win the custody fight.

"Somebody's really clever in this case, and I'm sorry to tell you it isn't my client," she said.

If McKeever had built the bomb, Farley said, he would not have left the propane cans and bleach bottle in his garage.

The prosecutor said that McKeever, who has two herniated discs and has attended the trial in a wheelchair, has exaggerated the extent of his disability. Investigators who trailed McKeever hours after the attack saw him "walking around for three hours" shopping and trying on clothes, Thonis said.

In her opening statement a month ago, Farley told the jury that McKeever's disability alone raised a reasonable doubt as to his ability to toss a bomb into the house. On Monday, she backed away from that assertion.

"If Mr. McKeever was of a mind to do it, he would have done it," Farley said. "Mr. McKeever is not going to pick this method to get rid of Mr. Monroe."

Thonis cited a series of complaints made by McKeever and Dunlop to the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies as part of a "campaign of harassment" that illustrated how much the defendant hated Monroe.

But Farley said McKeever was only trying to protect his wife's share of the former marriage's assets.

"What he did was perfectly legal," Farley told the jury. "What John Monroe did wasn't."

Farley also played up the absence of any violence in McKeever's past.

"Not one single person came up to this witness stand and testified that Mr. McKeever ever did a violent thing in his life," she told the jury.

But Thonis said McKeever "has a real unnatural preoccupation with war" and had told several friends that he worked as a sniper in Vietnam, a CIA agent and a member of Navy special forces during military stints in the 1970s.

"He's into secret stuff, the war and military," Thonis said. "It's not surprising the first person Mr. Monroe thought of (after the bombing) was Mr. McKeever."

Farley reminded the jury that McKeever's military records indicate that he never traveled overseas or worked in intelligence. "There's nothing obsessive about this gentleman," she said.

Farley will complete her closing argument this morning and the prosecutor will get a chance to rebut before the jury begins deliberations.

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