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Jury Awards $26,184 in ‘Psychic Vision’ Case

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court jury on Monday awarded $26,184 to a Burbank woman who a judge ruled was wrongly arrested and jailed for four days after she said a “psychic vision” enabled her to lead Los Angeles police to the body of a slain nurse.

“I’m just relieved that it’s over and that I’ve been vindicated in the public eye,” Etta Louise Smith said.

Smith, a 39-year-old mother of three, sued Los Angeles, alleging that police lacked sufficient evidence to arrest her in the nurse’s beating death. Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Joel Rudof ruled last week that the arrest was unlawful and left the question of damages to the jury.

Smith’s attorney, James E. Blatt, requested $750,000, but the panel awarded $25,000 for pain and suffering and $1,184 for lost wages and attorney fees.

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Jurors said there was no evidence that Smith suffered grave emotional distress as a result of the jailing. Jury foreman Janet Fowler of Burbank said most jurors believed Smith’s story that she had had a so-called psychic vision, and they believed that an award equivalent to a year’s salary for Smith was fair.

Smith, who makes about $25,000 a year as a shipping clerk for Lockheed Corp. in Burbank, testified during the eight-day trial that she heard a report about the missing nurse and immediately visualized the woman’s body in a rural area above Lake View Terrace.

After reporting her experience to police, Smith, accompanied by two of her children and a niece, found the location in Lopez Canyon and then led detectives to the body of Melanie L. Uribe, 31.

Investigators doubted Smith’s story of a “vision” and suspected she may have been connected to the killing, testimony revealed. After 10 hours of questioning, Smith, who then lived in Pacoima, was arrested on suspicion of murder.

She was released four days later, after a man confessed to the killing and implicated two others. The three men, who have no known connection to Smith, were convicted of the murder and are serving sentences of up to life in prison.

Assistant City Atty. Michael K. Fox said police continue to believe that Smith learned of the body’s location through neighborhood gossip or other natural means.

Fox said he doubted that the case would spark a rash of wrongful arrest suits against the city.

“These were unusual, bizarre circumstances,” Fox said. “We don’t have too many people who fall into this category.”


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