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Jailhouse informant plays a critical role in trial for a brutal double murder

Prosecutors say other evidence supports the inmate's version of the Tujunga killings. Defense attorneys question his reliability.

March 09, 2011|By Jack Leonard, Times Staff Writer
  • Neil Revill, a small-time drug dealer and friend of Arthur Davodian, is accused of killing Davodian and his girlfriend nearly a decade ago.
Neil Revill, a small-time drug dealer and friend of Arthur Davodian, is… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Arthur Davodian's roommate arrived home to discover a gruesome scene at his Tujunga condominium.

Davodian's headless body was stretched out on the living room floor, punctured with stab wounds up to six inches deep.

A trail of blood led through the apartment's hallway to a bedroom where the door had been kicked open. Inside, Kimberly Crayton, Davodian's girlfriend, lay covered in blood. She had been stabbed 19 times during a fierce fight for her life.

Davodian's head was found beside a parking lot a short walk from the condominium complex.

"This was no ordinary crime scene," Deputy Dist. Atty. Keri Modder told jurors recently in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. "It was a slaughter."

Police focused on the last man seen with the victims alive: Neil Revill, a small-time drug dealer and friend of Davodian. Nearly a decade later, jurors are weighing the fate of the 38-year-old British national after a six-week murder trial.

The case has been marked by the rare courtroom appearance of a jailhouse informant, who testified that Revill confessed to him about the October 2001 killings in grisly detail years later, while they were housed together in an L.A. County jail.

The use of jailhouse informants has sparked controversy for more than two decades, after revelations of perjured testimony resulting in wrongful convictions.

In the aftermath of a scandal in the late 1980s, the L.A. County district attorney's office adopted guidelines requiring strong corroboration before prosecutors could use a jailhouse informant. Since 2006, the office says, it has approved the use of such informants in six cases, though not all of those witnesses have testified at trial.

In Revill's case, prosecutors say, DNA and other evidence help confirm the testimony of the informant, Benjamin Chloupek. He and Revill grew so close in jail that other inmates referred to them as the "Neil and Pek show," Modder told jurors.

But defense attorneys have attacked Chloupek's credibility and argued that investigators were sloppy and overlooked evidence pointing to someone else as the killer.

"They have … built their case around this liar," attorney Michael M. Crain said in closing arguments last week. "Don't let this sociopathic con man con you."

Set-up suspected

Prosecutors say that the events leading up to the murder began in June 2001, when Glendale police stopped Revill's car and discovered methamphetamines, Ecstasy and a handgun.

The arrest was not happenstance. It had been arranged with the help of his friend Davodian, who was working for police. Revill later told another friend that he suspected he had been set up.

Months later, Revill, then 29, visited Davodian's condo on Commerce Avenue. Davodian's roommate testified that when he left around 2:30 the next morning, Revill was still there with Davodian, 22, Crayton, 20, and her 14-month-old daughter.

The jailhouse informant testified that Revill provided the following account of what happened in the condo that morning:

The adults had been smoking meth and Revill was growing increasingly paranoid. He suspected Davodian was trying to keep him in the home to give Israeli organized crime figures time to arrive and kill him.

While Crayton slept in the bedroom, Davodian and Revill fought in the living room. Revill stabbed and choked Davodian and cut himself during the struggle, according to Chloupek's account.

The baby began crying in another room and Revill changed her diaper, leaving a spot of his blood on her. He decided to kill Crayton and woke her, then stabbed her, Chloupek's account says.

Revill attempted to throw off police by trying to make the scene look as if an organized crime group was responsible. He cut off Davodian's head and removed it from the condo, Chloupek said, hoping detectives would believe the killers had taken it to one of their leaders as proof of the crime.

Prosecutors argue that forensic evidence broadly corroborates Chloupek's account.

Davodian's roommate found the baby unharmed, but investigators found a spot of Revill's blood that had dropped onto the baby's dress. Also on the dress was blood from the victims, suggesting that the attacker had contact with the child after the killings, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say that Revill's DNA was also recovered from under the fingernails of Crayton's left hand, which she had used to fend off her assailant.

"The last person she touched in life was her attacker," Modder told jurors last week. "Kimberly Crayton tells you who her killer is."

Evidence questioned

But defense attorneys accused investigators of sloppiness and questioned the reliability of the DNA evidence.

Crain told jurors that the blood on the baby's dress could have come from sores Revill had on his hand as a result of using meth. And he noted that fuzz and hair had been discovered among the fingernail clippings from Crayton's left hand before testing, suggesting that they had been contaminated.

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