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Jury Told Slain Nurse Was a Caring Mother

November 11, 1994|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court jury Thursday saw two different pictures of Westlake nurse Kellie O'Sullivan:

The first was a photo of her partly decomposed body after it was found in the Santa Monica Mountains. The other was a gentle portrait of her life as a caring mother, a trusted friend and an enthusiastic runner.

The photograph, taken by investigators after a 12-day search turned up her body, was displayed to each member of the jury during a dramatic moment in the 2-week-old trial.

Most jurors sat on the edge of their seats as Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter D. Kossoris flashed the small Polaroid before their eyes.

Several leaned forward to get a better look at the photo, which shows O'Sullivan lying on her back with her purse between her legs and her daily calendar and sunglasses by her side.

The 33-year-old nurse was identified in the picture by her live-in boyfriend, Kevin White, 41.

Thornton is accused of shooting O'Sullivan and leaving her body in the mountains after stealing her truck Sept. 14, 1993. The 20-year-old Thousand Oaks man sat in his chair as the photo was displayed Thursday with little emotion visible on his face.

Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath granted prosecutors permission to show the photo before the start of the trial. He ordered them to "touch up" some of the more gruesome aspects of it.

On the eighth day of the trial, prosecutors used the photo and a number of O'Sullivan's personal items to present her as a woman who had a life and future plans rather than as a faceless crime victim.

Their efforts appeared to have been helped somewhat by the defense, which opened the door for White to talk about his former girlfriend's personality, a topic prosecutors had not raised throughout the trial. It was not clear whether McGrath had ordered prosecutors not to raise that subject in one of the many closed-door motion hearings he held before the trial.

Deputy Public Defender Susan R. Olson asked White whether O'Sullivan was in good physical condition. Olson wanted to know if White believed O'Sullivan could have handled herself during a physical confrontation.

"She was very fit. But she was also very feminine," White said. "She was a mother."

It was the first time during the trial that anyone had mentioned in front of the jury that O'Sullivan had a young son, who was 5 when she died.

O'Sullivan, who was divorced, lived in Westlake with White from February, 1993, until her death that September, White testified. They planned to marry and have children, he said.

White said he did not know how she got to the Santa Monica Mountains, but that she had no plans that day to go there.

White also refuted a statement Thornton made to the police in which the defendant said he took O'Sullivan's truck after finding the keys inside.

Asked if O'Sullivan ever left her keys in her vehicle, White answered, "Not ever."

White said his girlfriend was normally punctual. The day of her disappearance, he said, he began to worry when she had not arrived home by early evening, about six hours after she had gotten off work.

"At about 6:30, I became very certain that something was wrong," he said.

A massive air-and-land search turned up her body 12 days later. Seven days before that, Thornton had been arrested, in possession of the woman's black Ford Explorer.

White and other witnesses who knew O'Sullivan testified Thursday that she worked out at the gym three to four times a week and ran four to five miles a day.

The 5-foot-7, 120-pound nurse even participated in a 32-mile "ultra marathon" several weeks before she turned up missing, said Stefan Feldman, a physician and her running partner. He said she finished about 25 miles of that race.

White said her physical condition did not mean she could ward off someone holding a gun on her. He said her conditioning went a long way in helping her keep a positive attitude about life.

"She was very bright, very strong, very warm," White said. "She was a good person."

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