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Mistrial Declared in Girl's Death

Jury is deadlocked on charges against a man accused of throwing his daughter, 4, off a cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes.

August 15, 2006|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

A mistrial was declared Monday in the murder case against Cameron Brown after the jury announced it was deadlocked over whether he threw his 4-year-old daughter off a Rancho Palos Verdes cliff.

Two jurors voted to convict Brown, 44, of first-degree murder, eight voted for second-degree murder and two for manslaughter.

Now the question of whether Brown threw Lauren Sarene Key of Huntington Beach off a 120-foot cliff to her death on Nov. 8, 2000, to avoid paying child support, as the prosecution said, or whether she slipped and fell by accident, as the defense argued, will be determined by a different jury in Torrance Superior Court.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos said, however, that he hoped a new trial would be unnecessary. Although he had wanted an acquittal, Geragos said the divided verdict shows how far away the jury was from believing that Brown intentionally murdered his daughter.

"It was a clear repudiation of the prosecution's theory that this was an intentional act," Geragos said. "We're gratified by that and we're hoping that cooler heads prevail next time."

When he told his client the news, Geragos said, Brown was philosophical.

"He obviously wanted to be acquitted, but he understands this is a large step toward getting him home," Geragos said.

Brown, a former baggage handler for American Airlines, was charged with first-degree murder in Lauren's death. Had he been convicted, he faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During the two-month trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum strove to paint Brown as a coldhearted man who never wanted a child, and who tormented Lauren's mother in retaliation for having the daughter he had urged her to abort.

The rage of the father toward the mother, Sarah Key-Marer, Hum argued, was key to understanding how Brown came to kill his own child.

Brown met Lauren's mother, then Sarah Key, in Newport Beach in 1995. The two had dated only a few weeks when Key, a British immigrant in the United States on a work visa, told Brown she was pregnant.

When she would not have an abortion, he tried to have her deported and fired from her job, Hum told the jury. Brown did not seek visitation until Lauren was 3 years old, Hum said, and saw her 14 times before she died.

His real goal in finally deciding to see her, Hum told the jury, was to reduce his $1,000-a-month child support payments; his goal in throwing her off the top of Inspiration Point, Hum said, was to end the payments entirely.

Hum could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

But defense attorney Geragos told jurors that the prosecution had demonized a man who was neither violent nor cruel. Brown did resent Key but came to love his daughter, Geragos said.

Brown felt trapped by a woman he had met in a bar and who he believed had used him to stay in the United States, Geragos said. He did not believe Key was carrying his child until a paternity test proved it, Geragos said.

Both sides called experts to analyze the types of wounds Lauren suffered.

Medical and biomechanics experts for the defense testified that the manner of death could not be determined because although some of the injuries Lauren suffered were consistent with a massive impact against rocks, others were not.

The prosecution contended that the absence of minor wounds on certain areas of Lauren's body belied the idea of her sliding and tumbling.

Had she slipped and slid down the slope just off the trail at Inspiration Point, the girl would have had more scrapes and scratches, consistent with efforts to stop herself from sliding, the prosecution said.

Pretrial motions for a new trial are set for Sept. 27, and a new trial has been scheduled for Oct. 11.

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