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Simi Valley Man Testifies Family Tried to Kill Him

Trial: He says his wife and stepdaughter beat him with bats after setting his mattress on fire, but attorney says the women were defending themselves.

July 24, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Larry Childs said he awoke suddenly to find the head of his mattress in flames. Scared and confused, he rushed from the bedroom of his Simi Valley home to find his family.

He said he saw his stepdaughter, then felt a baseball bat against the back of his head--then again, and again and again, as he held up his arms to protect himself.

"It was as though it was a nightmare," Childs told a Ventura County jury Tuesday, recounting his version of an early morning attack March 25. "I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I didn't know what to do."

Childs, 57, was among the first to testify Tuesday in the attempted murder trial in which his wife and stepdaughter are accused. Eileen Shannon Childs, 37, and her daughter, Jennifer Lee Childs, 19, are charged with trying to burn and beat Larry Childs to death by setting fire to his bed and then attacking him with baseball bats.

Because the couple's two young boys were in the house at the time of the fire, Eileen Childs also faces child endangerment charges. Additionally, she is accused of felony grand theft for allegedly stealing $132,000 from her husband by forging his signature on an insurance check.

As Larry Childs spoke on the stand--at times having to pause to regain his composure--the defendants sat expressionless.

Prosecutors contend the mother-daughter duo conspired to kill Larry Childs in an attempt to collect on a $1.4-million life insurance policy.

They wanted to use the money to further Jennifer Childs' career as a pop singer, pay off debts and possibly open a Jiffy Lube franchise, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lisa Lee told the jury during opening statements.

"This is the oldest motive in the book--greed. Simple greed," she said.

But Deputy Public Defender Jean Farley, who represents Jennifer Childs, called the prosecution's theory "preposterous."

Farley said her client has a "lucrative" contract with a Torrance music production company and had no desire to buy out that contract, as alleged by the prosecution.

Recording under the name Jenni Childs, the teenager has a demo CD and a Web site.

Farley said the two women were defending themselves against Larry Childs, whom she described as having a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality.

Screaming, Larry Childs grabbed the two women by the hair and dragged them across the room after the mattress in the family's master bedroom caught fire, Farley said.

"They did exactly what they should have done, which is try to get free of him," Farley said during opening statements.

Larry Childs, tall, broad-shouldered and dressed in a white button-down shirt and brown slacks, depicted the events leading to the incident as a typical Sunday for the family.

That morning, he said, he had helped his boys--Zachary, 8, and Jacob, 11, both on Little League teams--practice their pitching and hitting. After dinner he tucked the boys in and went to bed about 10:30 p.m., he said.

When he awoke about 5 a.m., he testified, he saw that the mattress--placed on the floor because of his bad back--was on fire. A candle, bowl of grapes and hand towel found near his bed March 25 were not there when he went to sleep the night before, he testified.

Larry Childs said he tried to squelch the flames with a pillow, then ran from the room, screaming, "Eileen, the house is on fire!"

After being hit with aluminum bats by his wife and stepdaughter, he testified, he grabbed two drinking glasses from the kitchen to douse the flames. When the fire was out he tried to flee, but Jennifer Childs blocked the front door and he was hit again from behind, he said.

He said he never tried to hit back. When Lee, the prosecutor, asked why, he began to choke up and said, "They're my family."

Testimony continues today in Ventura County Superior Court.

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