A businesswoman accused of strangling a 21-year-old model and aspiring actress in Santa Monica was acquitted Tuesday of murder in an emotional scene in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Kelly Soo Park, 47, bowed her head in relief and hugged one of her attorneys after the verdict was read. Behind her in the audience, supporters of the victim, Juliana Redding, wept.
"Murderer!" one of the victim's supporters shouted at Park once the judge had ended the proceedings.
"Go to hell!" shouted the victim's mother as a bailiff called for calm.
"This is a travesty of justice," another of the victim's supporters said loudly in the courtroom.
The verdict came during a busy morning in which jurors first announced they had acquitted Park of first-degree murder but were still deadlocked on a charge of second-degree murder. The panel announced it had reached a full acquittal shortly after listening to a prosecutor and a defense attorney argue about the definition of second-degree murder.
Jurors deliberated for more than a week in the high-profile case, which involves the killing of Redding, an aspiring actress whose modeling jobs included shoots for Maxim magazine.
During the trial, the prosecutor argued that Park was guilty of first-degree murder, noting that her DNA was found on the victim's neck and in other areas of Redding's Centinela Avenue apartment where the March 15, 2008, killing took place.
Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Okun-Wiese told jurors during the trial that Redding's lifeless body was dragged into her bedroom after a fierce struggle. The victim was found covered in scratches and bruises.
Okun-Wiese told jurors that Park was linked to the victim through a Marina del Rey physician, Dr. Munir Uwaydah, who employed Park and briefly dated Redding months before the killing. During that time, the physician offered to go into business with Redding's father, an Arizona-based pharmacist, Okun-Wiese told.
Redding was killed five days after her father broke off negotiations with the doctor, Okun-Wiese said. She said 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 any involvement. Authorities have said they suspect Uwaydah fled to Lebanon when Park was arrested in 2010.
Prosecutors previously said that Uwaydah bragged he had a "female James Bond" in Park. Okun-Wiese said in court this week that Uwaydah has been paying for Park's defense.
Defense attorney George Buehler told jurors that the prosecution had shown no clear motive for Park to have committed such a brutal crime and said the DNA evidence was far from conclusive.
Buehler argued that Park's DNA could have been transferred from items she 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.
Park has been out of custody on $3.5-million bail.
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