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Crowder Calls Girl’s Slaying an Accident

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul M. Crowder, accused of killing a high school basketball star on her prom night, testified Tuesday that he considered the teen-ager a good friend and never intended to shoot her.

Crowder, 19, fought tears as he detailed the moments before dawn on June 1, when his .357 magnum went off, killing the Crescenta Valley High School senior as she slept on a fold-out couch after a post-dance celebration at the Crown-Sterling Suites Hotel in Anaheim.

“I pushed open the door,” Crowder said, his cheeks suddenly pink and his voice tight. “I tripped. And when I was going down, the gun went off.”

The lights snapped on and after a few seconds searching for the bullet, Crowder said, he realized it had struck Berlyn Cosman of La Crescenta in Los Angeles County. Defense attorney E. Bonnie Marshall asked him what he thought at that moment.

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“That she was dead,” Crowder replied.

Crowder, a former football player and Crescenta Valley High dropout, is accused of killing Cosman, 17, because she and a girlfriend refused to let him party in the suite where they were trying to sleep. Crowder contends the gun accidentally discharged as he stumbled at the threshold.

Exploring that possibility, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans made Crowder demonstrate how he tripped while pushing open the hotel room door with his left hand and holding the gun with his right.

Crowder, wearing black slacks and a gray sweater, stepped down from the witness stand and two bailiffs edged closer. As he crouched in front of the jury box, the panelists craned their necks to watch and news photographers clicked away.

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Beginning the second week of his trial in Orange County Superior Court, Crowder testified that Cosman often “kicked back” at his house with him, watching television and talking, and that they occasionally double-dated.

As Cosman’s father listened from the front row of the spectator section and Crowder’s two younger brothers listened from the rear, Crowder described the early hours of the party, as he and more than a dozen other teen-agers smoked, drank beer and played cards.

As dawn drew near and many of the teen-agers fell asleep, Cosman’s friend, Jill Caballero, ejected him from the suite because Cosman and her date were “drunk and wanted to pass out.”

“She goes, ‘Well, you guys are still partying, you can find somewhere else to sleep,’ ” Crowder testified. “I just looked at her like, I don’t know.”

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Crowder said he was “hurt” but not angry, and that he exchanged no heated words with anyone. He called the exchange a “misunderstanding.”

Earlier witnesses testified that Crowder was enraged and stormed out of the room, telling friends in another suite that he hated the girls and wanted to kill them.

Testifying so softly that he was barely audible at times, Crowder said he “might” have cursed in talking about Caballero later, but only in the way an annoyed brother might talk about his sister. He said Cosman had “nothing to do” with the disagreement.

Crowder said he returned to Cosman’s suite near dawn because he wanted a ride home and the driver was sleeping on the floor in that room. When Evans asked why he carried the gun down the hallway, Crowder said it was because it had been lying on the table and hadn’t been put away yet.

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Other teen-agers have testified that Crowder repeatedly waved the gun at the party, pointed it at people, and loaded and unloaded the weapon, calling it “my baby” and even pressing it into one teen-ager’s buttock.

But Crowder either denied that most of those things happened or said he did not remember them. Like most of the other teen-agers who have testified, he admitted he was drunk. He said he did not recall reloading the gun after a friend asked him to unload it and took the bullets from him.

He said he did “dry-fire” the gun, pointing it once at the ceiling and once at his own head but only to demonstrate that it wasn’t loaded. He did put the gun on the table and hold it in his lap while playing cards, he said, but for most of the time it wasn’t loaded.

On cross-examination, Crowder insisted he had no intention to shoot anyone that night but said he did not know why he brought ammunition. He told Evans he brought the magnum and a shotgun that he left in the car to keep them away from his two younger brothers, who were home alone, and because he was in unfamiliar territory.

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“I’d never been to Orange County before,” Crowder said. “For all I knew, it could have been like South-Central Los Angeles.”

He also said he was worried that the abusive ex-boyfriend of one of the girls at the party might show up and start trouble.


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