David Viens grimaces as he hears his sentence. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
During his eight-day murder trial last year, David Viens made for an enigmatic presence. He sat in a wheelchair at the defense table, hands folded, face devoid of emotion -- even as jurors heard recordings of him telling investigators he accidentally killed his wife and cooked her body to dispose of it.
The panel convicted Viens, a chef, of second-degree murder, and on Friday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rand S. Rubin sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison. At the hearing, there was no confusion as to what Viens was thinking.
Acting as his own lawyer, Viens asked for a new trial in a rambling, 45-minute soliloquy that touched on his feelings toward his wife, Dawn.
"I loved my wife. I didn't cook my wife," Viens told the judge, blaming his confession to authorities on a drug-induced stupor.
At another point, Viens started to describe his wife's struggles with alcohol and drugs, something he said his former attorney should have dug into. His voice rose as he riffled through a stack of papers he'd brought to court, saying some of them detailed why his marriage crumbled.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Deborah Brazil cut him off -- "on behalf of Dawn Viens, who is not here to speak for herself" -- and asked the judge to stop him from further smearing his wife.
"I'm not attacking my wife," Viens shot back. "I'm attacking my counsel -- and you."
Viens had also filed a 122-page handwritten motion and nine-page addendum asking for a do-over. His main complaints involved his former attorney, Fred McCurry, who Viens said failed to submit medical records and other evidence that could have potentially swayed jurors.
Rubin dismissed the motion as "almost nonsensical" and said the jurors, who took about five hours to reach a verdict, had relied on "substantial, credible" evidence.
"This trial was not a farce," Rubin said.
In a sentencing memo, prosecutors called Viens, 49, "a liar and a manipulator" and said he had a history of drug-related crimes.
While living in Vermont, court papers said, Viens was convicted of a federal drug charge. Instead of reporting to serve a four-month sentence, he briefly fled to Mexico, prosecutors said. In 2005, he was convicted in Florida on a federal marijuana charge, according to court papers.
In October 2009, Dawn Viens vanished. She was 39. Her body has never been found, and prosecutors suggested that was because Viens wanted to conceal how she was killed.
A probation officer who evaluated Viens described his actions surrounding her death as "calculated ruthlessness." A sergeant who worked the case felt Viens "wants to say 'I did it. But she pushed buttons to make me do it,' " the probation report said.
Testimony painted the Vienses' marriage as disintegrating, with Dawn Viens telling one friend her husband had choked her and David Viens telling another friend he wanted to "kill that bitch."
Shortly after his wife disappeared, David Viens started dating a 23-year-old waitress who worked at his Lomita restaurant, Thyme Contemporary Cafe. He told friends that his wife had run off. Prosecutors said he also sent fake text messages from her phone to her friends, one of which said she was in Florida.
Dawn Viens' sister, Dayna Papin, suspected that something was awry. She filed a missing-person report.
In February 2011, when David Viens learned that investigators suspected he'd played a role in his wife's disappearance, he leaped off an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes. From his hospital bed, Viens gave a recorded confession to investigators.
Viens said he duct-taped his wife's mouth, bound her hands and feet and left her in the living room, as he had done at least twice before when she was hysterical. Then he fell asleep. Hours later, "I woke up. I panicked," he told investigators. Why? "She was hard."
Initially, Viens told authorities he tossed his wife's 105-pound body in a Dumpster at his restaurant. But in a second interview, Viens shared a more gruesome account.
"I cooked her four days, I let her cool, I strained it out," he said. He threw out what remained.
Although Viens told authorities that he stashed his wife's skull in his mother's attic, authorities never found it, and a defense expert suggested that the drugs that doctors gave Viens could have impaired his memory.
Before Viens' sentencing, the judge heard from Papin, who had attended the entire trial. She said Viens had long been a father figure to her, "but I don't feel any sympathy nor pity nor kindness toward him in any way whatsoever." Viens avoided her gaze.
As she sat down, Viens called out to her: "Nobody loved Dawn Marie Viens more than me or misses her more than I did. I never meant for what happened to happen."
He added: "I'm sorry, Dayna."