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Jurors appear deadlocked in murder trial in model's killing

Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeHomicide

Jurors in the trial of a businesswoman charged with murdering a 21-year-old aspiring model sent the judge a note Monday that the defense says shows they have acquitted the defendant of first-degree murder.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said the note indicated that jurors had reached a verdict on the greater offense in the case against Kelly Soo Park but were deadlocked on the lesser offense.

The jury, which has deliberated more than a week, has the option of acquitting Park, 47, or finding her guilty of first- or second-degree murder. Outside court, defense attorney George Buehler said it was clear the panel had rejected first-degree murder.

Kennedy declined a defense request to make the verdict public and asked jurors to return Tuesday. 

In court, Buehler objected to Kennedy's decision not to immediately take the one verdict that jurors had reached. He said some jurors will feel compelled to change their votes based on the judge's action.

"The way the court has handled this is ... coercive," he told Kennedy.

Kennedy disagreed, pointing to a note to her from the jury foreman saying that two jurors were not following the court's instructions. 

Earlier in the afternoon, the jury foreman told Kennedy the panel had reached one verdict but that some jurors had told their colleagues they would not follow the court's instructions while deliberating.

"We have heard comments along those lines," the foreman said.

"That 'I don't care what the instructions are, I'm not going to follow the court's instructions'?" the judge asked.

"Yes," the foreman responded.

The jury then sent a second note asking for additional explanation about the difference between first-degree and second-degree murder. 

Kennedy told the defense lawyers and prosecutor that she is thinking of giving both sides 10 minutes Tuesday to argue for the jury about the legal definition of second-degree murder.

DNA from Park was found on the neck of the victim, Juliana Redding, and in other areas of Redding's Centinela Avenue apartment where the March 15, 2008, killing took place.

During the trial, L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy 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.

Defense attorney Buehler told jurors 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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jack.leonard@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackfleonard

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