Nearly 15 years after she plunged to her death from a Rancho Palos Verdes cliff, the smiling face of 4-year-old Lauren Sarene Key was beamed Monday from a projector onto the wall of a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The eyes of jurors turned upward to see the photograph of the young girl with golden curls. Her mother, Sarah Key-Marer, stared at the image and sobbed as she was comforted by supporters.
Lauren's father, Cameron Brown, sat expressionless as Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum asked the jury to convict him in the young girl's death.
"The truth is that the defendant threw his 4-year-old girl off that cliff like a piece of luggage," Hum said, pointing first at Brown and then to Lauren's image. "That's the truth."
The jury is set to begin deliberations Tuesday after hearing rival narratives of what happened atop Inspiration Point on Nov. 8, 2000: a tragic accident or a calculated killing.
Hum described Brown as a coldhearted, vindictive man who never wanted the child and killed her to avoid paying child support and to hurt her mother.
But defense attorney Aron Laub argued that Brown loved and cared for his daughter and that the girl was playing near the cliff's edge when she slipped and fell to her death.
This is the third time that a jury has listened to the opposing accounts of Lauren's death. Two previous juries deadlocked on whether Brown intentionally killed his daughter. If no verdict is reached this time, a judge could refuse to let prosecutors retry the case and order Brown, who has been jailed since 2003, released.
In his closing arguments, Laub told jurors that evidence in the case did not prove Brown set out to kill his child, but instead painted him as a lousy father and unlikable person.
"I don't think it's necessary to like him as an individual to give him justice as a human being," Laub said.
Laub said the prosecution of Brown was propelled by an emotional reaction to the death of a young child.
"It's an injustice to prosecute Cameron Brown for murder," he told jurors.
At the end of his remarks, Laub guided jurors to a guilty verdict on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
"This could have been prevented by holding her hand," he told them.
Hum argued that, at the very least, a guilty verdict on second-degree murder was warranted because Brown failed in his legal duty to protect his daughter from harm.
But he argued that the evidence points to first-degree murder, recalling testimony by an expert witness who said the girl's injuries were inconsistent with a slip or trip and instead suggested that she was thrown. Brown mustered only a half-hearted attempt at rescuing the girl after the fall and was indifferent and uninterested in the hours and days that followed, Hum said.
"It was a one-way trip," he said.
Brown's first trial ended in 2006, with two jurors voting to convict him of first-degree murder, eight voting for second-degree murder and two favoring manslaughter. In 2009, a jury split evenly between second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.