Witness in Drowning Lied, Defense Says


A witness who testified against two women accused in the drowning death of a 17-year-old high school classmate lied to keep from being implicated in the crime, defense attorneys argued Monday.

The testimony of Eva Chirumbolo, the key prosecution witness in the case against Karen Severson and Laura Doyle, was designed to divert attention from her own involvement in the death, defense attorney Charles Lloyd said during his closing arguments in the 2-week Pasadena Superior Court murder trial.

Severson and Doyle, both 22 and from Arleta, are accused of drowning Michele Avila in a creek in the Big Tujunga Canyon area of Angeles National Forest on Oct. 1, 1985, after claiming she slept with their boyfriends, authorities said.

Chirumbolo did not tell Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators about the events surrounding the slaying until three years after the death. Chirumbolo, who has not been charged with a crime, testified that she did not come forward earlier because she feared for her life. She changed her mind, she said, after the suicide of her 18-year-old brother made her realize the grief the Avila family was experiencing.

But Lloyd argued Monday that Chirumbolo came forward with her story after hearing rumors tying her to Avila's death. Lloyd referred to testimony from Kymi Keel, a mutual friend of the women, that Chirumbolo and Avila had been in a fight weeks before.

The fight, Lloyd noted, centered on Avila's popularity with Chirumbolo's boyfriend, John Avril. "It is obscene that Eva Chirumbolo is not charged with this killing," Lloyd said.

Both Lloyd and Severson's attorney, Harold Vites, also argued that because Chirumbolo had not witnessed the killing, it was impossible for the jury to find the defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Tamia Hope dismissed both arguments, saying Chirumbolo had no reason to lie.

"She was not an accomplice to this crime," Hope said of Chirumbolo. "If she was really involved, why didn't she just keep quiet? Eva Chirumbolo was touched and traumatized by the death of her brother and finally decided to come forward and tell what she knew."

Chirumbolo testified that she accompanied her friends to the creek near Colby Canyon Ranch but was not present when Avila's death occurred. She said Severson and Doyle had argued with Avila, accusing her of having slept with their boyfriends.

At one point, Doyle stepped into the creek and Severson pushed Avila toward Doyle, who grabbed Avila by the wrist and pulled her into the water, Chirumbolo testified.

Chirumbolo said she became frightened and ran back to where the cars were parked. A few minutes later, Doyle and Severson joined her, and Severson jumped into her car and drove off, Chirumbolo said.

When she got into the car with Doyle, Chirumbolo said, Doyle told her that she and Severson had killed Avila.

Jury deliberations are to begin today. Severson and Doyle are being tried as adults, although Severson was 17 at the time of the crime. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

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