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Detectives say Santa Monica actress dialed 911 moments before she was killed

Prosecutors and police investigating Juliana Redding's 2008 death tell a grand jury that suspect Kelly Soo Park left DNA evidence in the victim's home and then tried to blow it up.

December 05, 2010|By Robert Faturechi and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

As detectives pieced together the 2008 slaying of a young Santa Monica woman, they came to a chilling conclusion: She had been calling police for help when the killer snatched the phone from her hands and hung up.

Prosecutors unveiled the eerie account of the 911 call and other details from the March 2008 killing that has attracted national attention during secret grand jury proceedings against Kelly Soo Park, the woman arrested in June this year and accused of murder in the slaying of 21-year-old Juliana Redding. A transcript of the proceedings was obtained by The Times last week — its contents being made public for the first time.

Over three days in October the grand jury heard from police, forensic experts and coroner's officials, who told of how Redding died, the violent struggle that preceded the killing and, according to prosecutors, Park's sloppy effort to destroy evidence afterward.

The grand jury ordered Park, 45, to stand trial for the killing. Park, a close associate of Redding's former boyfriend, has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail awaiting trial.

Redding, an aspiring model and actress, had landed some small jobs: a lingerie shoot in a popular men's magazine and a bit role in a low-budget movie. She had come to Los Angeles from Arizona — one in the steady stream of beautiful women who migrate to the city each year in search of a break. She was paying the bills waitressing at a tapas restaurant.

Santa Monica police arrived at Redding's small, bungalow-style apartment on an unremarkable stretch of Centinela Avenue shortly after 6 p.m. March 16. Her mother, in Arizona, had grown concerned after not hearing from Redding for a day and asked police to check on her. Officer Scott McGowan, working overtime on a night shift, told the grand jury he saw Redding's car and heard her dog barking inside when he approached the apartment. There was no sign the front or rear door had been forced open and none of the windows were broken. His knocking and shouting went unanswered.

McGowan, however, said he was struck by the smell of gas coming from the bungalow. He called the fire department and, with the help of another officer trained in picking locks, they worked on getting in.

Inside, they found a candle burning on the coffee table. One of the burners on Redding's gas stove had been turned up with the pilot light off. So much of the candle's wax had melted away, McGowan testified, he figured it had been burning for hours. Prosecutors have alleged that Park turned on the gas and lighted the candle hoping to cause an explosion that would destroy any evidence linking her to the killing.

From the kitchen, McGowan could see Redding's body on the bed in the bedroom. From the deep purple discoloration on the bottom of her feet and back of her thighs — a sign the heart had stopped pumping hours earlier and blood had begun to pool — he knew she was dead, McGowan told the grand jury.

The call for help from Redding's cellphone was attempted at 9:52 p.m. the night before her body was found. Investigators estimated she died shortly after the call.

A forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Redding recounted the contusions and cuts that covered her body. Burst capillaries in her eyes, he said, indicated that the killer had clenched Redding's throat so tightly that the flow of blood was stopped. Bones in her neck had been crushed and scratches under her chin, he said, came from Redding's own fingernails as she fought desperately to break her attacker's grip.

Most damning for Park was the testimony by the criminalists who collected and tested several DNA samples. The genetic code extracted from DNA material left on Redding's skin and clothes, the cellphone, the stove knob and a drop of blood found on a plate all matched Park's, the analysts testified. Her fingerprints were also lifted from objects in the apartment, a print specialist said.

Police also found traces of saliva belonging to actor Brian Van Holt on Redding's body. Van Holt, who through a publicist declined to comment for this report, was granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony. He told the grand jury that he and Redding had been in an "intimate relationship" and were out together the night before she was killed. Neither police nor prosecutors have given any indication they believe Van Holt is linked to the killing.

Prosecutors described to the grand jury what they portrayed as a hasty attempt by Park to clean up the crime scene. A bottle of household cleaner and scrub brush were found on the kitchen counter. And then, Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson told jurors, there was the burning candle and the stove with the gas on and pilot light extinguished, "if you understand what I mean."

Jackson and other prosecutors also declined to comment for this report. Park's attorneys could not be reached.

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