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The Sons of Sante Kimes

The Notorious Grifter's Two Boys Followed Strikingly Different Paths, But Destiny Has Brought Them Together in an L.A. Legal Drama. This Time It's a Matter of Life and Death.

November 30, 2003|Matthew Heller | Matthew Heller last wrote for the magazine about the city of Colton's battle against the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly.

There was one problem, however. The bank, which Sante had instructed not to send any documents to Kazdin's address, goofed and mailed him the payment book for the loan. He contacted the bank and identified his signature on the application as phony, and he rebuffed Sante's requests for a meeting to smooth things over.

Sante and Kenny took a six-month lease on a home in Bel-Air. "I'm not sure Kazdin was the motivation for the move," Walker says. "They were probably looking for other cons." On March 13, 1998, Kenny and Sean Little, a drifter whom the Kimeses had recruited to work for them, allegedly paid Kazdin a visit. Little has testified that while he waited outside, he heard "a pop sound like a gun going off." When he went into the home, he saw Kazdin dying on the floor.

Following Kenny's instructions, Little said he helped him wrap the body in plastic bags and stuff it in the back of Kazdin's Jaguar. Little got behind the wheel and followed Kenny, who was driving his own vehicle, to the LAX-area dumpster where Kazdin's body eventually was found. On the way home, Little told the grand jury, Kenny bought $100 worth of flowers for his mother.

"He walks in the door, hands her the flowers and gives her a kiss," Little recalled.

Walker speculates that the flower-giving was some kind of "victory dance. [Kenny] wanted to please his mom, show her he was being a good boy."

A few weeks later, in April 1998, mother and son headed for the East Coast. They ended up renting a $6,000-a-month apartment in a Manhattan building owned by Silverman, an 82-year-old widow. She was last seen on July 5. By then, Kazdin's body had been found and a joint task force of Los Angeles police and the FBI were looking for the Kimeses. They were arrested in New York with several items belonging to Silverman in their possession.

Despite the absence of Silverman's body and any physical evidence linking the Kimeses to her disappearance, a jury in New York convicted Sante and Kenny of second-degree murder. They were soon extradited to Los Angeles to be tried in the Kazdin case.

At earlier hearings in the downtown criminal courthouse, 28-year-old Kenny stared straight ahead, his lawyer between him and his mother. "She wishes him 'Happy Birthday' and tells him she loves him," reported the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Eleanor Hunter. Sante, sporting a jailhouse pallor and gray hair no longer covered by the jet-black wigs she used to favor, has been showing up for recent court appearances in a wheelchair. After repeated attempts to interview Sante Kimes in jail proved unsuccessful, The Times submitted written questions to her. No responses came.

For more than a year, she acted as her own lawyer, a move that is rare in any criminal case, let alone a capital murder one. "I think that you are in way over your head representing yourself," said Judge Kathleen A. Kennedy-Powell, who clashed repeatedly with Sante, at one hearing. "You really should have a lawyer." Sante claims her past experience has "caused me to lose faith in the legal profession to guide me through [a] criminal action where my very survival is at stake." But she recently retained a veteran criminal defense lawyer, Charles Maple of Altadena, to represent her.

Walker didn't testify in the Silverman trial after prosecutors declined his request for immunity. Walker says he didn't actually need immunity, but sought protection on the advice of his attorney. Because of his family association, "Everybody thought I was guilty of something."

But he was prepared to take the stand without immunity in the Kazdin case. "I guess things have calmed down a little bit," he explains. "I don't feel at risk so much."

The prosecution could have called Walker to testify about a conversation he had with Kenny at a penitentiary in New York. According to "Son of a Grifter," Walker told him that to save his life, "he'd have to confess to killing Dave Kazdin, and in the process he'd have to implicate Mom." Kenny replied that he was ready to cooperate with law enforcement. It was, writes Walker, "a murder confession"--and precisely what his younger brother ended up doing.

In cutting a deal with prosecutors to save his life, Hunter said Kenny admitted during three days of interviews last August that he went to Kazdin's home and, according to a plan hatched with his mother, shot the businessman. He also admitted pulling the trigger on Kazdin during his surprise Nov. 18 guilty plea.

But there could still be plenty of Kimes family drama when Sante comes to trial. She is charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances of financial gain and killing a witness to a crime. First, Kenny will have to take the stand against his mother as the key prosecution witness. The district attorney apparently offered him the plea deal because his testimony could be the key link between Sante and the Kazdin murder plot.

Then, if Sante is convicted, will Kenny speak out to spare her from death row? Will her older son?

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