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Closing arguments heard in businesswoman's murder trial

Kelly Soo Park is accused of beating and strangling Juliana Redding, an aspiring actress and model, in her Santa Monica apartment.

May 22, 2013|By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
  • Kelly Soo Park listens to her attorney George Buehler make opening statements at her murder trial in the beating and strangling of Juliana Redding in Santa Monica. Closing arguments were heard in the trial Wednesday.
Kelly Soo Park listens to her attorney George Buehler make opening statements… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

Kelly Soo Park balked when homicide detectives handed her a warrant to collect her fingerprints.

The businesswoman repeatedly asked whether the officers were playing a joke and demanded to speak to a lawyer, according to a police recording of the encounter. She refused to cooperate even as a detective snapped handcuffs on her and ushered her into a police car.

In a downtown courtroom Wednesday, a prosecutor cited Park's reaction as evidence that she knew detectives had correctly identified the killer of a 21-year-old aspiring model and actress found beaten and strangled in a Santa Monica apartment.

"She knows she's caught and she doesn't want to give any evidence to help convict her," Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Okun-Wiese told jurors during closing arguments in Park's murder trial.

When Park's fingerprint was eventually taken, detectives found that it matched a bloody print left behind on a plate in the Centinela Avenue apartment where Juliana Redding was killed in March 2008, Okun-Wiese said. The blood also belonged to Park.

Capping a week of testimony, the prosecutor said Redding's home showed signs of a fierce struggle. Authorities found a broken necklace, jostled furniture and porcelain pieces. Redding's body was covered in scratches and bruises. She had been strangled with such force that a bone in her neck had been broken.

"As she is taking her last breath of air, she is fighting for her life," Okun-Wiese told jurors. "This girl was brutally, brutally murdered."

Okun-Wiese said Park was linked to the victim through her work as a mortgage broker and business associate for a Marina del Rey physician, Dr. Munir Uwaydah, who briefly dated Redding about a year before the killing.

Park, 47, is out of custody on $3.5-million bail. She showed little emotion during the closing arguments but earlier in the day tearfully embraced supporters in the hallway outside the downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

Defense attorney George Buehler told jurors that the prosecution had no evidence that Park was psychologically capable of such a crime or that she had a compelling motive to kill Redding. He said his client had been willing to provide her fingerprints to authorities but did not want to give them to those particular detectives who confronted her.

Buehler suggested that prosecutors and police stopped investigating when they made the DNA match. He argued that DNA could have been transferred from items that Park touched at Uwaydah's home, where Park had visited and the victim briefly lived months before moving to the Santa Monica apartment. Redding, Buehler argued, could have taken those items with her when she moved to Santa Monica.

"Don't be fooled by the DNA evidence," he said.

But the prosecutor said the DNA was critical to identifying the killer.

Park's genetic material, she said, was found on Redding's neck and on the front and back of a tank-top the victim was wearing when strangled. More of Park's DNA was found on Redding's cellphone, which had been used to make a 911 call that did not go through. DNA was also found on the inside of the apartment's front door, which was locked from the inside by the killer, and on a stove knob that was left on, Okun-Wiese argued. A candle burning in the living room could have ignited the gas, engulfing the entire apartment complex, the prosecutor said.

"She tried very hard to cover her tracks," Okun-Wiese said of Park.

The prosecutor said Park's boss, Uwaydah, had been engaged in business negotiations for months with Redding's father, an Arizona-based pharmacist. Redding was killed five days after her father broke off negotiations with the doctor, she said.

Okun-Wiese told jurors that more than $1 million was transferred to Park or her company from a company owned by Uwaydah.

Uwaydah has not been charged in Redding's death and has denied involvement. Authorities have said that they suspect he fled to Lebanon when Park was arrested in 2010.

At the end of closing arguments, the prosecutor asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy to jail Park, saying she might flee during deliberations. Okun-Wiese noted that Uwaydah was paying for Park's defense and said Park is driving a car that has confidential license plates because it belongs to her husband, a retired Oxnard police officer.

The judge declined, noting that Park had appeared at every hearing while out on bail.

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