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Seabee tells detectives of role in Camarillo slaying

The sailor describes in court documents how he and another sailor plotted the fatal shooting after two bomb attempts failed.

April 07, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A 20-year-old Seabee told authorities that he shot and killed a Camarillo man after he was recruited for the crime and supplied with the gun by a female sailor, who is also implicated in the slaying along with the victim's ex-wife, according to court documents.

Matthew Gerald Toerner said he shot John Marmo Jr., 27, outside Marmo's condominium as he walked to his car, according to the declaration for Toerner's arrest warrant filed with the court. Toerner said he "emptied the clip at him," firing four or five shots.

Toerner told a sheriff's detective that he and fellow sailor Shannon Butler, 23, who was also present at the shooting and had given him the gun, then fled, according to court documents.

The documents provide new details of Marmo's Dec. 1 slaying and two earlier attempts on his life. Marmo's ex-wife, Rebecca Braswell, 26, a former Navy mechanic, has also been charged in his slaying.

At a hearing Thursday, the three suspects' cases were consolidated. A preliminary hearing was set for April 17.

A fourth sailor, Seth Hardy, 20, was charged with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of using an explosive device to injure or harm Marmo on two occasions last year. All four suspects were stationed at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme.

Marmo and Braswell, who were divorced in January 2005, had been engaged in a contentious child custody dispute over their 5-year-old daughter, Heather, according to court documents. The couple's relationship was so strained that they had agreed to make the custody exchanges in the lobby of the Port Hueneme Police Department.

Before her arrest, Butler, a close friend of Braswell's, told a police informant that she was present at Marmo's slaying but did not shoot him, according to court documents.

"I heard one shot," Butler told the informant, "but I could not hear anything else because the gun went off next to my head."

The informant offered to get rid of the weapon and instructed Butler to leave the gun in his truck at a Carl's Jr. restaurant in Ventura on Dec. 5, according to court documents. Butler placed the 9-millimeter Ruger handgun in a blue canvas backpack on the rear seat of the vehicle.

After her arrest the same day, Butler waived her Miranda rights and told a detective that she and Toerner had intended to confront Marmo about his beating up Butler, according to court documents. Butler said she did not know that Toerner was going to shoot Marmo.

Butler also told Ventura County Sheriff's Det. Sgt. Steve Rhods that she acted as a lookout when Hardy, a building apprentice with the Seabees, placed an explosive device on Marmo's car parked in front of his condo, according to court documents. She said she was communicating with Hardy via two-way radio as Hardy installed the device.

On Oct. 14, after hearing a strange noise coming from underneath his car, Marmo discovered a propane canister attached to the axle. He filed a crime report with the Sheriff's Department, naming his ex-wife, Braswell, as a possible suspect.

Two weeks later, Marmo filed a crime report with the Ventura Police Department after finding an explosive "booby trap" on his vehicle. This time he named Braswell, Butler and Hardy as suspects, according to court documents.

Hardy was arrested and charged with twice placing explosive devices on Marmo's vehicle to kill Marmo, according to court documents. Hardy, who is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail, was not charged with Marmo's shooting.

Shortly after Butler's interview with Rhods, investigators determined that Toerner had been deployed to Okinawa, Japan, two days after Marmo's slaying. Rhods and Det. Joe Evans flew to Japan to interview Toerner.

Waiving his Miranda rights, Toerner admitted to Evans his involvement in Marmo's slaying, according to the arrest warrant declaration. Toerner said he knew Butler and Hardy and was with them when Hardy placed an explosive device on Marmo's car at Butler's request, the document asserts. The device failed.

Toerner also said he attended a meeting in November when Butler asked Hardy to shoot Marmo, according to court documents. He said Butler later approached him to commit the crime but he refused.

On Nov. 30, the night before Marmo was killed, Toerner said Butler approached him at the Seabee barracks and told him that Marmo had threatened to kill her, according to court documents.

At 5 a.m., the two drove to Marmo's condominium in a rented car. They parked in a driveway next to Marmo's vehicle and Butler gave Toerner the gun, according to court documents.

Toerner told Det. Evans that he shot Marmo as he left the condominium for work, according to court documents.

Sheryl O'Neil, Marmo's roommate who had been asleep upstairs, heard the gunshots, ran downstairs and dialed 911. O'Neil said she opened the front door and found Marmo in the walkway lying in a pool of blood.

When she heard the gunfire, O'Neil told authorities, she knew that Marmo had been shot because of the custody dispute.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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