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Husband's Second Trial on Murder Charge Goes to Jury

Bruce Koklich again awaits a verdict after the first case ended in a mistrial. The D.A. is unable to produce his wife's body or a motive.

October 08, 2003|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

Jurors should look past the lack of physical evidence and convict Bruce Koklich of killing his wife based on overwhelming circumstantial evidence, prosecutors said Tuesday during closing arguments in the second trial of the Long Beach real estate businessman.

In March, a judge declared a mistrial after a jury voted 7 to 5 in favor of convicting Koklich of killing Jana Carpenter-Koklich, daughter of the late state Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress).

At the time, some jurors said they were bothered by the lack of motive and physical evidence. Among the things that prosecution could not produce was the victim's body or the murder weapon. Some jurors in the first trial also said that during closing arguments the prosecution had not explained clearly how each piece of circumstantial evidence added up to Koklich's guilt.

On Tuesday in Norwalk Superior Court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Eleanor Hunter appeared to respond to those comments, telling jurors that the law allowed them to "draw inferences" from numerous facts that point to Koklich's guilt.

"There's a big difference between inference and speculation," she said. The prosecution, she argued, had to prove the case "beyond a reasonable doubt," not "beyond all doubt."

Prosecutors allege Koklich killed his wife sometime after midnight the morning of Aug. 18, 2001, after she returned to their Lakewood home from a concert.

An exercise appointment at 7 that morning, a Saturday, was the first of numerous commitments Jana missed that weekend. Her body was never found.

Koklich was the only other person in the house when she was killed that night, prosecutors said.

They argued that the following Monday, Koklich planted her white Pathfinder in a crime-ridden Long Beach area with the windows rolled down and a gun and his wife's purse in full view. Prosecutors believe Koklich wanted someone to steal the vehicle and be blamed for the murder.

The investigators' focus turned to the Koklichs' bedroom when the couple's housekeeper told investigators that bed sheets, among other items, were missing. Investigators subsequently found bloodstains in the bedroom.

During the first trial, prosecutors said Koklich had killed his wife for financial gain, including a $1-million insurance policy. This time, prosecutors chose jurors who said they could still find Koklich guilty if prosecutors did not prove a motive.

"If we were here on a rape case, would we be talking about motive?" Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Latin asked the jury.

Unlike the first trial, during Tuesday's closing arguments, prosecutor Hunter used a projector to explain to jurors how evidence, such as e-mails and pictures, connected to the case.

"I wanted to be more visual," Hunter said.

Koklich's attorney, Henry Salcido, told jurors they could not find Koklich guilty because, among other things, the prosecution had not proved where, how or why Carpenter-Koklich was killed.

"If they can't prove to you why Bruce Koklich killed his wife, you should say, 'Guess what? Not guilty,' " he said.

Salcido maintained in his closing argument, as he has in the past, that Carpenter-Koklich was seen two days after she was allegedly killed.

Unlike in the first trial, when Koklich testified and at times appeared combative with prosecutors, Salcido did not put him on the stand this time

Salcido told jurors Tuesday it was not necessary for Koklich to defend himself because "he was relying on the state of the evidence and the failure of the prosecution to prove what they should prove."

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