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Aspiring model tried to fight off killer, prosecutor says

May 15, 2013|By Jack Leonard
  • Kelly Soo Park looks back at the audience as opening motions are made in her murder trial.
Kelly Soo Park looks back at the audience as opening motions are made in her… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

He is not in court. He is not even charged with a crime.

But looming over the murder trial of a woman accused of strangling an aspiring model and actress in her Santa Monica apartment five years ago is a doctor who once dated the victim.

A prosecutor told a downtown jury Wednesday that Juliana Redding was killed five days after her father broke off business negotiations with her former boyfriend, Dr. Munir Uwaydah.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Okun-Wiese said that Redding, 21, was slain by one of the doctor’s associates, Kelly Soo Park, whose DNA was discovered on the victim’s neck, tank top and areas of her apartment.

Redding's mother sobbed in the courtroom’s audience as the prosecutor displayed on a large projector screen photographs of Redding's body taken after her death.

“Juliana Redding spent the last moments of her life literally fighting to save herself,” Okun-Wiese told the jury. “Juliana Redding tried to fight off a woman. A woman she did not know.... A woman who needs to be held accountable for her actions.”

The physician, Dr. Munir Uwaydah, has denied any involvement in Redding’s death. Prosecutors previously said they suspect Uwaydah fled the country when Park, 47, was arrested in 2010. The doctor’s attorney, Benjamin N. Gluck, declined to comment on Wednesday.

In an opening statement that lasted just a few minutes, defense attorney George Buehler told jurors that forensic evidence would not conclusively prove that Park was responsible for Redding's killing. The prosecution, he said, has no evidence to show that his client had any reason to commit such a brutal crime.

“Keep an open mind in this case,” he told the jury.

Park’s defense was dealt a blow moments earlier when Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy blocked attorneys from telling jurors that Redding’s boyfriend, John Gilmore, might be the killer.

While the jurors were outside the courtroom, Buehler argued that Gilmore had shown a pattern of jealousy and violent outbursts with Redding, including incidents in which he put a fist through a wall, kicked doors and damaged her car. The lawyer said that Gilmore sent angry texts to the victim on the day of -- and during the days leading up to -- the killing.

“If the court won’t let me do that, I really do believe that … we’re being deprived of the ability … to make a defense,” Buehler told the judge.

But the judge ruled that the defense had produced no concrete evidence linking Gilmore to the slaying.

“When he gets angry, he does not hurt Ms. Redding. He punches a hole in the wall, he puts a dent in her car,” Kennedy said. “It’s not great conduct -- doesn’t sound like the greatest boyfriend to me -- but it’s not evidence that he physically abused her, choked her, struck her, or similar [behavior] to what occurred on the night or early morning of her death.”

Park sat quietly taking notes. She is out on $3.5-million bail.

Prosecutors have previously said that Uwaydah made six-figure payments to Park and her family before the killing and before Park's arrest. They said he also bragged that he had a “female James Bond” in Park.

Okun-Wiese did not mention the payments during her opening statements, but the doctor otherwise featured prominently in the first day of Park's trial.

Redding had briefly dated Uwaydah a year before her death. During that time, the physician offered to go into business with her father, an Arizona-based pharmacist, to produce a pain cream, the prosecutor said.

Redding's father, Greg, testified Wednesday that he did some research on the doctor and discovered that Uwaydah had lied about his age, was married and had children. Once he told his daughter, she broke off the relationship and he broke off business talks with the doctor. But he said he resumed discussions later after talking to Uwaydah and concluding he might have been wrong about the doctor.

Greg Redding finally ended negotiations in a letter his lawyer sent Uwaydah's attorney on March 10, 2008, five days before his daughter was killed.

His daughter failed to appear for a modeling engagement on March 16, 2008, prompting her worried mother to call authorities.

Authorities found her dead inside her small Centinela Avenue apartment, which smelled strongly of gas. Her stove had been left on and a candle was burning.

The prosecutor said detectives were able to determine that DNA found on Redding's neck, her cellphone, a stove knob and blood from a fingerprint in the home all belonged to a female suspect. Investigators eliminated 42 women as suspects before matching the genetic profile found at the apartment to Park, Okun-Wiese said.

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

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