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Slain Officer's Family Testifies: 'It Really Just Tears You Apart'

Relatives of Garden Grove policeman killed in 1980 get a chance to sway jury's death penalty vote.

February 09, 2000|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laying bare the emotional wounds of a 20-year-old murder case, family members of a slain Garden Grove police officer testified for the first time Tuesday as prosecutors once again sought the death penalty for a man twice convicted of the crime.

"We had all moved on, and then . . . this came back and smacked us in the face," said Linda Reed, 49, the widow of murdered officer Donald Reed. "It really just tears you apart."

Reed, then 27, was killed in a bloody bar shooting in 1980 as he and three other officers tried to arrest John George Brown on drug and assault-related charges. Two of the officers and two bar patrons were also wounded in the notorious case.

Brown was convicted in 1982 and sentenced to death. But in 1998 the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial or a reduced sentence because potentially exculpatory evidence was never made available to the defense.

On Tuesday, Reed's parents, oldest brother and wife recounted the fateful evening of June 7, 1980, when they received news of his killing.

"I knew something was wrong," said Linda Reed, recalling when two Garden Grove police officers pounded at her door. "I thought if I don't answer they will just go away. . . . They didn't have to say anything."

She said she and her husband had a pact that if he ever was injured and could not speak he would wink at her to let her know everything was OK.

"I didn't get that wink," she said.

The couple met in high school and married six months after his graduation. They had two sons, Jason and Justin, now 22 and 21 respectively. Linda Reed said her sons, still coping with their father's loss, decided not to attend the retrial.

"I was a mother, a father," she said. "I had to teach them everything."

The family did not testify during the 1982 trial. The law has since changed to allow victims to testify during the penalty phase of a trial about the impact of the crime on their lives.

Last week, the jury found Brown, now 51, guilty of Reed's murder and the attempted murders of the two wounded officers. The panel of six men and six women must now decide whether to send Brown back to San Quentin's death row where he has already spent 15 years.

Raymond Novell, Reed's half-brother, described Reed as a kindhearted man who performed magic tricks for his two toddler sons and their friends.

"I was very angry at first," Novell said. "Then that anger sort of dispels itself and becomes a cloud of sadness."

Keith Reed, the 79-year-old family patriarch, was overwhelmed by emotion Tuesday and testified only briefly.

"Don and I were very close," he said in a halting voice. The senior Reed said he and his son went fishing regularly, their favorite pastime.

"I haven't been fishing since," he said before breaking down.

Brown, wearing sunglasses and a denim jacket, stared at the jury from time to time but did not display any emotion. Tuesday's proceedings in a Santa Ana courtroom were doted with several long pauses as witnesses choked back tears. A few jurors also wiped their eyes.

According to authorities, Brown shot Reed and the others to avoid arrest.

Witnesses testified during the trial that Brown seemed to be cooperating with the officers at first when they found him at the Cripple Creek Salon on Garden Grove Boulevard. But as Brown was leaving with the officers in tow, he suddenly turned and opened fire with a .22-caliber gun he had hidden in his jacket. Reed lay mortally wounded on the bar's parking lot.

"I could see a sense of panic in Don's eyes," testified Glenn Overly, one of the wounded officers, about the shooting. "He said, 'I am not gonna make it.' "

The defense is scheduled to begin its presentation Monday. Brown's attorneys contended during the trial that their client was not the shooter, a sharp departure from his original defense which simply tried to attack the prosecution's evidence.

Defense attorney George Peters theorized that the subject of an arms smuggling investigation by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm detectives at the Cripple Creek Salon may have been the killer.

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