‘Flood of Incredible Testimony’ : 2 Arraigned on Murder Charges
Two men were arraigned in Santa Monica Superior Court on homicide, kidnaping and robbery charges Tuesday in a murder case that revolves around a fatal limousine ride from the opulent hotel suites of West Hollywood to a shallow stream bed in Topanga Canyon.
County Superior Court Judge David N. Fitts ordered Mark Steffan Smith, a 29-year-old West Hollywood man, and Kevin Leigh, 21, from Canoga Park, to stand trial in the robbery, kidnaping and murder last February of 28-year-old Rick Diamonon. Smith is also charged with possession to sell cocaine and Leigh faces a separate cocaine possession charge.
Smith and Leigh, who are being held without bail, each pleaded not guilty Tuesday on all counts. Fitts then set a hearing on pretrial motions for Aug. 26.
The arraignment came two weeks after lengthy court hearings presided over by Malibu Municipal Court Judge John J. Merrick, who described the proceedings as “an incredible parade of witnesses that would rival a Damon Runyon omnibus, I think, and a flood of incredible testimony.”
Death by Drowning
On Feb. 4, a hiker found Diamonon’s body lying face down in a two-foot-deep stream just 50 feet below Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Diamonon had been struck on the head and shot in the arm and thigh with a .38-caliber revolver. An autopsy later showed that the gunshot and head wounds were not fatal, but that Diamonon had drowned in the stream.
According to testimony during the pre-arraignment hearings, Diamonon, Smith and Leigh were among six passengers who rode in a Cadillac limousine to Topanga Canyon one night in early February.
Several witnesses questioned during the hearing by Deputy Dist. Atty. Myra Radel testified that during one stop in the Topanga area, the three left the limousine, but only Smith and Leigh returned.
Much of Radel’s case during the hearings was based on testimony provided by Andrew Wachter, 29, a curly haired former bank loan officer who also was in the limousine and who said he ended up there, drugged and inebriated, after meeting Diamonon, an acquaintance, several days earlier at a Santa Monica Boulevard bar.
Wachter’s testimony has become pivotal to the case not only because of the prosecution’s reliance on it, but also because Smith’s defense attorney, Alan May, has suggested that Wachter might have had a motive in the murder.
Wachter testified that after accompanying Diamonon to a well-appointed hotel suite in the Le Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, he found himself caught among a group of men involved in cocaine sales and male prostitution.
Wachter testified that he had memory lapses over the next few days because of alcohol and drug use, but recalled hearing Smith and Leigh argue with Diamonon while the car drove through Topanga Canyon and then saw them drag Diamonon out of the car after it had stopped on Topanga Canyon Road.
"(Diamonon) pleaded for his life,” Radel summed up near the end of the hearings. “The limousine was ordered to leave. Only three people were left at that murder scene--the defendants and the victim. Some 10 to 20 minutes later, the limousine returns. Two people get back in--each of the defendants, one of them (Leigh) wet.”
But May, Smith’s attorney, presented several witnesses who suggested that Wachter himself had a motive to kill Diamonon. According to several witnesses questioned by May, Wachter had purchased $8,000 in cocaine from Smith, only to find that it had been switched for less potent “biker’s speed.”
Several witnesses questioned by May said Wachter suspected Diamonon of the switch and made threats against him.
Bernard Rosen, Leigh’s court-appointed public defender, questioned Wachter’s testimony, but did not go as far as suggesting, as May did, that Wachter might have had a role in the murder. Instead, Rosen said that several of the limousine passengers may have simply wanted to scare Diamonon, but that “one individual got carried away.”