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Defense Opens in Prom Night Shooting Death

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A defense attorney for Paul M. Crowder, a high school dropout charged in the prom night shooting death of a Crescenta Valley High School basketball star, told jurors Wednesday that Crowder’s gun accidentally discharged when he stumbled into a dark hotel room where the victim was sleeping.

Presenting the case for the defense before an Orange County Superior Court jury, E. Bonnie Marshall said Crowder entered a darkened room at the Crown-Sterling Suites Hotel in Anaheim, looking for a friend, when he tripped. A .357-magnum handgun Crowder was holding fired, hitting 17-year-old Berlyn Cosman in the bed where she slept.

“The trajectory of the bullet (that killed Cosman) is consistent with a falling motion,” Marshall said.

Marshall told the jury that testimony would show that Crowder and Cosman were good friends who “spent a great deal of time together” and had double-dated on occasion. On the night of the prom, she acknowledged, Crowder was annoyed about a change of plans regarding where he would sleep, but by the time Cosman was shot early the next morning he was no longer upset and had threatened no one.

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Crowder, 19, is charged with murder in the June 1 death of Cosman, who had been scheduled to attend college on a basketball scholarship. Prosecutors have characterized Crowder as an insecure, threatening youth who repeatedly waved the handgun at students celebrating their prom and deliberately shot Cosman because she had insulted him.

In testimony Wednesday, prosecution and defense witnesses revealed more details of a long night of alcohol, drugs, guns and hurt feelings.

Half a dozen teen-agers, some of whom attended the party at the Anaheim hotel without their parents’ knowledge and few of whom attended the prom, gave varying accounts of Crowder’s conduct on the night and early morning of the shooting.

Christine Madeiros, a 17-year-old student, testified that Crowder waved the gun around one of the three hotel rooms the teen-agers rented that night. She said Crowder and a friend later became “angry because no one would let them sleep in their rooms.”

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Crowder, she said, then threatened to kill Cosman and another woman, Jill Cappillero, who were sharing a bedroom. Under cross-examination, Madeiros said she had smoked marijuana that night and she acknowledged that she gave different accounts of the evening to investigators.

Bryan J. Girroir, Cappillero’s boyfriend who was asleep in the hotel room where Cosman was shot, said Cappillero had suggested that Crowder go to another room because the young women wanted to sleep.

“I could tell he was upset,” Girroir said of Crowder, “that his feelings were hurt.”

Girroir testified that he followed Crowder down the hall to the room where a party was going on, where Girroir tried to explain that the women had asked him to leave simply because they were tired. He said he never heard Crowder issue any threats.

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But, like several other witnesses, Girroir admitted under questioning that he was drunk that night.

Another student, Gena Phillips, 17, also testified that Crowder arrived at the room with the group and that he was angry at being rejected. But Phillips, too, acknowledged that she was “buzzed” from beer that night.


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