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In third trial, man convicted of Grove killing

Verdict in the 2005 stabbing of an aspiring actor comes after two other juries deadlocked.

September 08, 2007|Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writer

Kim McMurray, who had been tried twice before in the death of aspiring actor Eric Gelman, was found guilty Friday by a third jury and now faces 15 years to life in prison.

McMurray, 43, described by his attorney as homeless and addicted to cocaine, stabbed Gelman in the neck with a 16-inch knife near the Grove shopping center on April 17, 2005, in an apparent robbery attempt, authorities said.

Gelman, 32, a waiter at the Marmalade Cafe at the Grove, had recently gotten a break as a guest on the USA Network series "Monk." He was leaving work when he was attacked.

"I'm a little bit numb right now," Gelman's mother, Lynn, said in a telephone interview from Florida, where she lives. "There's certainly no joy" about the verdict, she said. "The only thing we have felt at the end of this third trial is that the police and the Los Angeles district attorney's office did absolutely everything possible.

"I can't say that I'm pleased," she said, "but I feel like it's the right thing. Nobody should do that without being held accountable."

Two previous juries deadlocked over McMurray's role in the killing. Most of the first jury favored conviction, and most of the second voted for acquittal.

One theory behind the attack, said prosecutor Michael Jesic, is that McMurray may have told Gelman he would watch his car throughout the day, hoping for compensation when Gelman came back. Gelman probably did not know about expectation of payment until he returned to his car that night, Jesic said, adding that McMurray likely stabbed Gelman over money.

During the trial, Jesic presented three main pieces of evidence he said may have led the jury to convict: An eyewitness who placed McMurray at the scene; testimony from a witness who said McMurray confessed to him; and McMurray's own conflicting and often implicating statements about his whereabouts and involvement.

"He basically proved our case for us," Jesic said. "He was at the scene of the crime, there at the same time as the crime, with the victim's blood on his hands. He would have had to be the most unlucky person in Los Angeles County that day."

Defense attorney Katie Trotter maintains that her client is innocent and is a victim of a botched investigation.

"I'm shocked," she said after the verdict was read.

Trotter said the witness who identified McMurray was not credible and not accurate in his descriptions. She also said police photographs of McMurray were tainted -- tinted with red -- to point the witness in the right direction.

The verdict came after four days of deliberation.

After Friday's decision, five jurors waited in the empty hallway outside of the courtroom to speak with both attorneys on the case.

"We combed over everything," one of the jurors said to Trotter. "We combed and combed."

Another said the group mostly discounted the eyewitness and focused on many of McMurray's own statements to police and corroborating statements from other witnesses.

That juror said she spent the last day of deliberation trying to assume that McMurray was not guilty because "what if the police are just trying to get off easy and pin this on a homeless guy?"

But none of the alternative scenarios worked out, she said.

If he were a witness to the crime, "how does he know what he knows?" she said. "What if he's an accomplice, how does he know what he knows? What if he heard it from someone, how does he know what he knows?"

Sentencing is set for Sept. 21. Trotter said, however, that she will pursue a retrial.


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