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Koklich Is Guilty of Killing Wife

A Long Beach man's retrial, with his spouse still missing, results in a 2nd-degree murder conviction. The evidence was circumstantial.

October 09, 2003|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

A jury on Wednesday found Long Beach real estate businessman Bruce Koklich guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, the daughter of a former state senator.

It was the second trial for Koklich, 44, who prosecutors alleged killed Jana Carpenter-Koklich, 41, daughter of the late Paul Carpenter, who had once served as a Democratic state senator from Cypress. Prosectors alleged that Koklich hid the body, which has not been found.

"I feel relieved that, finally, it's over, that justice has been served," said the missing woman's mother, Janeth Carpenter, who has sat through numerous court proceedings since the August 2001 disappearance. As for where her daughter is, she said, "I just wish we knew." Prosecutors said they were satisfied that the jury found Koklich guilty of second-degree murder, which could bring a sentence of 15 years to life.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Latin said the jury might have not been convinced that the murder was premeditated and thus deserving of a first-degree conviction.

"That was a reasonable verdict," he said. Latin joined Deputy Dist. Atty. Eleanor Hunter to retry Koklich after a jury deadlocked in the first trial, in March.

Defense attorney Henry Salcido said he and Koklich were optimistic that the jury, which deliberated for less than a day, would return a not-guilty verdict. Koklich, whom prosecutors viewed as cocky, testified in his first trial. He did not take the stand this time.

Salcido told the jurors Tuesday that, because the prosecution had not answered how, when or why Carpenter-Koklich was killed, they could not legally find Koklich guilty.

He said Koklich "was stunned. Disappointed and offended by this jury's verdict. They did not follow the law.... This jury screwed up big time."

Prosecutors alleged that the affluent couple, who lived in Lakewood and owned a real estate and computer software company, had a failing marriage. They said Koklich killed his wife in the early morning of Aug. 18, 2001, after she returned from a concert.

The crucial theme in the circumstantial case was the series of appointments that Carpenter-Koklich, known for her loyalty to personal commitments, began missing the following day at 7 a.m.

Prosecutors believe she was already dead and that Koklich was the only one in the house when she was murdered.

The prosecutors alleged that on the following Monday, Koklich planted his wife's white Nissan Pathfinder in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Long Beach with the windows rolled down and her purse and a gun in plain view.

Some of her blood was smeared in the cargo area of the vehicle.

Koklich, prosecutors said, wanted someone to steal the vehicle and be blamed for the murder.

But the Kokliches' housekeeper put the focus on Koklich when she told investigators that bedsheets, among other items, were missing from the couple's bedroom. Investigators later found bloodstains in the bedroom.

Other behavior, such as soliciting several women for sex, the lack of effort to search for his wife -- whom he reported missing the following Monday -- were not consistent with that of a worried husband, prosecutors said.

For the first trial, prosecutors did not have a body, a murder weapon or other pieces of physical evidence.

After seven days of deliberation, the jury voted 7 to 5 in favor of conviction.

Jurors, among other things, said Hunter's closing arguments did not leave them convinced that Koklich was guilty.

This time, when Hunter delivered her closing remarks Tuesday, she used a projector to help jurors visually evaluate evidence, such as e-mails and pictures.

"Visuals help the jury," Hunter said Wednesday. "There was so much in this case about circumstantial evidence and the timeline."

Salcido said he will ask for a new trial on Dec. 4, when Koklich is scheduled to return to court for a sentencing hearing.

Among other things, he said, there was not sufficient evidence in the case to convict.

"Motions for new trials are not granted that often," Salcido said. "But this is a very close call."

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