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'He Bashed My Head In,' Woman Says of Ex-Spouse

The Newbury Park accountant who was beaten in her home in 1999 testifies in civil trial. Lawyer for her ex-husband says there is no evidence against him.

November 16, 2002|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

A Newbury Park accountant who was beaten in her home three years ago identified her ex-husband in court Friday as the attacker who bludgeoned her with a flashlight, leaving her brain-damaged and partially paralyzed.

Cradling her limp left arm as she sat before jurors in a wheelchair, Linda Morrisset described her bitter divorce from businessman Lee Mannheimer and testified that he tried to kill her during a dispute over custody of their young son.

"He bashed my head in," Morrisset said.

She described him as a hostile and controlling bully who had frightened her during their nine-year marriage.

"He lost his temper a lot; he was always yelling. I was afraid of him," she said.

Morrisset's testimony launched what is expected to be an emotional four-week civil trial in Ventura County Superior Court. She sued Mannheimer two years ago for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The lawsuit was filed after prosecutors declined to charge Mannheimer in connection with the near-fatal Sept. 11, 1999, attack on Morrisset in the hallway of her former home in the Santa Rosa Valley.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 04, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 482 words Type of Material: Correction
Murder-for-hire probe -- A story in the Nov. 16 California section erroneously reported that Westlake Village businessman Lee Mannheimer was the focus of a federal murder-for-hire investigation in 1993. In fact, it was state and local investigators who conducted the inquiry, on a tip from an FBI informant.

She was found lying in a pool of blood the next morning by a family housekeeper.

Morrisset, 51, identified Mannheimer, 59, as her attacker after she awakened from a 16-day coma. Authorities arrested the Westlake Village businessman on suspicion of attempted murder.

But he was released after prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges.

Investigators said the biggest stumbling block was Morrisset's inability to fully recall the attack.

Mannheimer was arrested in the assault partly because he had been the focus of a federal murder-for-hire investigation involving his wife in 1993.

He was never arrested in the murder-for-hire case, however, and Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh has limited how much jurors in this trial will hear about it.

Although the 1999 assault case remains unsolved, Morrisset said she is certain her former spouse did it.

During opening statements, attorney Allen Ball said that evidence will show Mannheimer wanted his ex-wife dead and entered her home in the fall of 1999 to accomplish his goal.

There had been a mix-up that night over where the couple's 9-year-old son would sleep, and Mannheimer became enraged, the lawyer said.

"They found Linda unconscious on the floor, beaten so badly and so repeatedly that her brains were escaping from her skull," Ball said.

He told jurors that blows from the flashlight were so severe they crushed his client's skull and left dents in the wooden floor.

"The evidence will show that that man did it," he said, pointing to Mannheimer seated in the courtroom. "He did it out of rage, and he did it out of emotion."

In his opening statement, Mannheimer's attorney, Greg Ramirez, said that there is no evidence linking his client to the assault.

Jurors will hear testimony from a German au pair who says he was home with Mannheimer and the 9-year-old boy the night of the assault, Ramirez said.

The evidence will further show that Morrisset gave four or five conflicting statements to investigators after emerging from her coma, he said.

She has a motive to implicate her former spouse, he said.

"Mrs. Morrisset admits that she hates Mr. Mannheimer," Ramirez said. "And she hated him before Sept. 11, 1999."

Lastly, Ramirez said his client is too squeamish to commit such a bloody attack.

"Lee Mannheimer is a coward," Ramirez said. "He is not the type of man who would carry out this type of vicious assault."

Morrisset's current husband, Richard Morrisset, 49, is also suing Mannheimer for the losses he suffered after his wife was confined to a wheelchair.

Ramirez suggested that Richard Morrisset is seeking money -- an accusation the man denied Friday.

Mannheimer also testified briefly late Friday, denying that he was involved in a 1993 murder-for-hire plot. His testimony will resume Tuesday.

In an interview, Ramirez said the case is an extension of the couple's acrimonious divorce, for which Morrisset filed in 1993. He said that she is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

The current suit is one of several filed by the divorced couple after the 1999 attack. Mannheimer sued his former wife for slander after she accused him of trying to kill her.

Those claims were dropped before trial last week.

Mannheimer also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Ventura County Sheriff's Department five months after his arrest in September 1999.

In addition to false arrest claims, Mannheimer alleged detectives had maliciously launched a child-welfare investigation that resulted in his son being removed from his custody for more than three months.

The federal case was settled earlier this year after the county agreed to pay him $125,000.

*

Times staff writer Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.

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