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D.A. Uses Videotape of Chase, Fatal Crash in Opening Statement

Courts: Jurors watch footage in the trial of a man accused of killing a Holocaust survivor during a series of crimes.


San Fernando jurors watched television news footage Monday of a high-speed police chase and the head-on collision that claimed the life of a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor last December in Encino.

Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. John F. Nantroup Jr. stood silently as the video showed the car crash, a young driver running from the scene and Charlotte Lenga's lifeless body being removed from her vehicle and covered with a white sheet.

James Arthur McMann, 23, of Chatsworth is charged with first-degree murder with the special circumstances of fleeing a robbery and burglary. He also is charged with robbery, burglary and carjacking.

If convicted, McMann faces a maximum of life in prison without parole.

The trial is expected to last at least two weeks in the courtroom of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Warren G. Greene.

In his opening statement, Nantroup devoted 10 minutes to the images captured by television cameras from helicopters.

He slowed the videotape to show jurors the impact of the crash and left the image of the wrecked car on the large screen while he explained that McMann's driver's license was found on the floorboard of the stolen Chevrolet Suburban he was driving.

As the videotape played, McMann watched without emotion, while members of victim's family wept a few feet away.

McMann's lawyer, Lisa-Marie Krause, did not give an opening statement Monday. Outside the courtroom, Krause said she will challenge the special circumstances allegation in hopes of reducing her client's possible sentence to 25 years to life.

McMann's crime spree began about noon Dec. 15 in Northridge, after Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Shannon Allen spotted a white van that fit the description of a vehicle used in a string of burglaries and went to investigate, Nantroup said in his opening statement.

The defendant fled in the van, leading Allen and other officers in patrol cars and a police helicopter on an hourlong chase around the San Fernando Valley, Nantroup said. McMann drove at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour on residential streets, he said.

During the chase, McMann jumped from the van, which crashed into a first-floor apartment on Nordhoff Street in Panorama City and forced his way into another apartment, where he stole a change of clothes and took the tenant's 1994 sports utility vehicle from the garage, Nantroup said.

As McMann drove out of the garage, he hit a patrol car parked at the end of the driveway to block his escape, Nantroup said.

"He looked over at [the officer] and smirked as he pushed the vehicle out of the way," he said.

McMann then sped to Encino and headed down White Oak Avenue near Miranda Street, where he struck Lenga's compact car as she made a left turn into the post office parking lot, Nantroup said.

Lenga was pronounced dead at the scene. She had survived the atrocities at Auschwitz and another Nazi concentration camp.

McMann is shown on videotape running from the crash site. He hopped a few backyard fences and ran through alleys to avoid police, who arrested him a few minutes later.

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