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L.A. man guilty of second-degree murder in USC student's death

Travion T. Ford, 25, faces a sentence of 16 years to life for the Sept. 18 murder of Bryan R. Frost, 23, who was stabbed during a street fight sparked by the noise from a slammed apartment gate.

September 01, 2009|Larry Gordon

A Los Angeles man was found guilty of second-degree murder Monday in the fatal stabbing of a USC film student last year during a street fight sparked by the noise from a slammed gate.

Travion T. Ford, 25, who sometimes worked as an usher at USC football games, faces a sentence of 16 years to life in state prison for the Sept. 18 murder of Bryan R. Frost, 23, near the university. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 29.

The jury of seven men and five women found Ford not guilty of first-degree murder, which would have required greater proof of premeditation and intent to kill. But the jury clearly did not believe Ford's contention that he was trying to save his own life when he stabbed the former West Point cadet, who grew up in Idaho and dreamed of becoming a film director.

"It just came down to jurors seeing that he was lying," Deputy Dist. Atty. Kennes Ma, who prosecuted the two-week-long trial, said of Ford's self-defense testimony. While on the stand last week, Ford, whose street name is "Poison," conceded that he had initially lied to police about his whereabouts the day of the slaying. Ford also testified that he didn't think authorities would believe the word of a black man suspected of killing a white USC student.

Despite the courtroom victory, Ma said he was not jubilant. "It's sad," he said after the verdict. "One set of parents are sad now, versus closure for another."

Frost's parents and other relatives came from Idaho to attend the trial in Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles. During one emotional moment, they sobbed when the 911 call their son's friend made after the stabbing was played in court and Frost's moans and labored breathing could be heard. They returned home Saturday to await a verdict.

"We are very grateful the jury was able to see the truth, but it's still a loss for us. We still lost Bryan. So there's not a lot of consolation," Paige Lee, Frost's mother, said Monday from Boise. She thanked Ma and the LAPD "for fighting the fight for Bryan."

Diane Butko, the public defender in the case, declined to comment after the verdict and did not return subsequent phone calls. Ford's family members, several of whom testified on his behalf, were not in court for the verdict and could not be reached later. Jurors refused to discuss their single day of deliberations.

Ford, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and bright tie, showed little visible reaction to the verdict. A former warehouse worker, he has been in custody on more than $1-million bail since September, missing the birth of his first child, a son named after him.

The death shocked the USC campus and heightened fears about security. It also revived neighborhood discussions about students' drunken partying in the area.

In what was portrayed in court as a random, tragic encounter, Frost and two friends were walking rowdily past 28th Street and Orchard Avenue after a night of drinking. On a whim, Frost slammed shut a sliding gate at the apartment complex where Ford's mother lives.

That prompted the brawl with Ford, who police said ran into the apartment to grab a kitchen knife, then returned outside to stab the student in the heart. Frost, who had earned an economics degree at USC and was working on a second bachelor's, was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Police found the knife in a planter at the complex, and tests showed Frost's blood on it.

Contradicting the prosecution, Ford said he never entered his mother's apartment that night. He claimed that he was choking badly while pinned on the ground by Frost and that he used the knife, which he said he carried for protection in a sweat shirt pocket, "as a last resort."

Ma portrayed Ford as already agitated because he was arguing outdoors with his girlfriend just as Frost slammed the gate. The prosecutor also stressed the unlikelihood of someone carrying a kitchen knife unsheathed in a pocket.

Butko, in urging a not-guilty verdict, contended that the USC students' drunken and aggressive behavior triggered the incident, a claim Ma said amounted to smearing the victim.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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