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Defense Seeks to Put Ng on Witness Stand

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attorneys for accused serial killer Charles Ng stunned the courtroom Thursday by announcing that they want their client to testify next week at the close of a defense case marked by unexpected twists and turns.

Ng, who is accused of murdering seven men, three women and two baby boys in the mid-1980s, could take the stand as early as Monday.

In one of the state’s longest and most expensive homicide prosecutions, authorities contend that Ng and another man, Leonard Lake, lured their victims to Lake’s cabin in Wilseyville in the Sierra Nevada foothills and killed them for financial gain and sexual gratification.

Ng’s attorneys have sought to portray their client as a patsy of Lake. Lake committed suicide shortly after he was arrested in June 1985.

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The decision to place Ng on the stand was surprising in light of his erratic behavior in court, which included one expletive-laden outburst at the judge in October.

Family members of some victims, who have regularly attended the 2 1/2-month trial, said they are eager to hear what Ng has to say and hope it will help explain the violent events that took place inside the mountain cabin.

“There is only one person who knows what really happened,” said Sharon Sellitto, whose brother, 39-year-old Paul Cosner of San Francisco, was allegedly killed by Ng and Lake, although his body has never been found.

On Wednesday, the defense called Lake’s ex-wife, Claralyn Balazs, to the stand, billing her as a key witness. But in a surprise move, Ng’s attorney, William Kelley, dismissed her without asking any questions. Kelley later declined to explain his actions.

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Balazs sat on the witness stand for just a few minutes as Kelley read excerpts of her immunity agreement.

Balazs, who cooperated with investigators and received immunity from prosecution, was expected to shed some light on what happened inside the mountain cabin that her parents owned. In the cabin, authorities found charred human remains and a makeshift bunker where they say Ng and Lake allegedly kept women as their sex slaves before killing them.

According to court records, Balazs turned over weapons and other material to authorities during the investigation.

Sellitto expressed disappointment that Balazs did not provide details about what she saw when she was inside the cabin, which she sometimes occupied with the two men.

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“I thought it would be an opportunity to find out something about Paul,” she said.

Ng has at times argued pretrial motions on his own behalf and tried repeatedly to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers. In October, he went into a diatribe when Judge John Ryan declined to hear arguments about Ng’s mental competency.

Ng’s case, which dates back 14 years, will cost taxpayers an estimated $14 million by the time it ends this year. Ng was extradited in 1991 from Canada, where he fled after Lake was arrested on shoplifting charges in 1985.

Ng’s trial began Oct. 26 and is expected to end much earlier than the initial estimate of nine months to a year. The prosecution rested its case less than a month into the trial, and Kelley said he may rest as soon as next week.

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The defense has attempted to shift blame to Lake, whom it painted as a survivalist who nursed deviant sexual fantasies about women. One witness testified that Lake seemed to have good knowledge of incendiary devices. Many of the human remains found in the Sierra showed signs of being incinerated, according to court reports.

For Sellitto’s mother, an early end would be bittersweet, she said.

“I know it is not going to bring Paul back,” said Virginia Nessley, 74, who traveled from Ohio to watch the trial. “But I want some answers.”


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