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D.A. Won't Seek Death Penalty in Ennis Cosby Case

Courts: Judge also decides trial of slaying suspect will be held in Santa Monica rather than downtown Los Angeles.

May 31, 1997|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After weeks of speculation, authorities Friday announced that they will not seek the death penalty against Mikail "Michael" Markhasev and that the trial of the man accused of killing Ennis Cosby will be held in Santa Monica rather than downtown Los Angeles.

The announcement that Markhasev, 18, will not face capital punishment for allegedly killing entertainer Bill Cosby's son brought a rare public reaction from the wiry defendant, who smiled faintly when the district attorney's office disclosed its decision in a crowded Los Angeles courtroom.

"He was happy," one of Markhasev's attorneys, deputy alternate public defender Henry Hall said after the brief court hearing. "I remember [hearing] the words, 'Thank you,' " Hall said.

Almost from the moment that Hall and deputy alternate public defender Harriet Hawkins took over the case last month, they have contended that Markhasev's age, background and other factors did not justify seeking the death penalty against him. The teenager's criminal record includes a juvenile assault as well as a guilty plea to marijuana possession hours before his March 12 arrest in the Cosby murder.

On Jan. 16, Cosby, 27, was found dead from a single bullet wound to the head. Police say he was shot during a botched robbery as he attempted to change a flat tire on his Mercedes-Benz. Cosby's body was lying alongside his car, which was parked on a side street in the Sepulveda Pass along the San Diego Freeway.

If convicted, Markhasev would face life in prison without the possibility of parole. (The district attorney's records show the death penalty is sought in fewer than 20% of the murder cases in which special circumstances, such as a multiple slaying or another felony, are alleged).

During Friday's brief court proceeding, Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls did not outline the reasons the office decided not to seek the death penalty. Others in the district attorney's office also declined to discuss the specifics of the decision.

"The only statement we are gong to make about this decision was [made] in the courtroom," said district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.

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Officials previously noted, however, that the decision on whether to seek the death penalty would follow the course of every other potential capital case: a meeting of eight members of the district attorney's top staff, an opportunity for the defense to weigh in with its position, and ultimately, a determination by Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Murphy.

Outside the courtroom, Markhasev's attorneys said they were pleased with the decision. Said Hall: "The D.A.'s office is to be commended" for basing its move on the facts of the case and not its notoriety.

Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, applauded the district attorney's action. "We support the district attorney's decision," they said in a prepared statement. "Onward to jurisprudence."

In another significant development, Superior Court Judge John Reid moved the case from the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles to the Santa Monica courtroom of Superior Court Judge David R. Perez Jr.

In doing so, Reid ended speculation that the high-profile case, like the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, might be tried downtown rather than at the courthouse closest to the crime scene--in this case, as in the case of the Simpson case, Santa Monica.

Outside the downtown courthouse, reporters asked Markhasev's attorneys if trying the case in Santa Monica would have any impact on their client's prospects since the jury pool could be of a different economic and ethnic makeup than one culled for the downtown courthouse.

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Hall and Hawkins, who have not ruled out the possibility of asking that the trial be moved out of Los Angeles County because of pretrial publicity, dismissed the notion that holding the trial in Santa Monica would have any significant impact.

"[It is] impossible to predict what the racial makeup of the jury will be," Hall said.

A June 12 court hearing was scheduled for motions and status reports on the case. But lawyers in the case declined to predict how soon the trial might get underway.

Given the amount of evidence collected in the case, Hall said, it could take "six months to pick a jury" and only one month to conduct a trial.

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