The attorney for a Simi Valley mother accused of trying to burn and beat her husband to death began her case Tuesday by describing Eileen Childs as an abused woman who lived in fear of her short-tempered husband.
“You will hear a lot about fear, terror, bravery, looming death and about abusiveness,” attorney Jenny Scovis told a Ventura County jury during her opening statement. “There was constant fear in that home.”
Eileen Childs, 37, and her daughter, Jennifer Childs, 19, face charges of attempted murder, arson and use of deadly weapons stemming from an early morning altercation with Jennifer Child’s stepfather, Larry Childs, on March 25 in the family’s Simi Valley home.
Ventura County prosecutors contend the mother and daughter conspired to kill Larry Childs by setting his bed on fire and then waiting in the hallway to ambush him with baseball bats.
Their motive, prosecutors say, was to collect on a $1.4-million life insurance policy. Prosecutors say the women wanted the money to further Jennifer Childs’ career as a pop singer and possibly open a Jiffy Lube franchise.
But defense lawyers say the two women acted in self-defense when an abusive Larry Childs flew into a rage after a candle accidentally sparked a fire in his bedroom.
On Tuesday, Scovis told the jury her client’s testimony will paint a much different picture than what prosecutors say occurred that morning.
Scovis presented a computer simulation based on Eileen and Jennifer Childs’ account, in which Larry Childs is shown attacking his wife moments before his stepdaughter struck him with a bat from behind. When he turned to grab Jennifer Childs, the simulation shows Eileen Childs striking him with a glass mug.
“They heard an unearthly, wild scream from the bedroom when Larry Childs comes out and grabs Eileen and Jennifer Childs by the hair,” Scovis told jurors. “Jennifer manages to break loose and grabs the first thing she saw--a baseball bat--and tries to make him stop. You will hear she had no intention of hurting the man she called ‘Dad.’ ”
Eileen Childs, who suffers from lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease, also is accused of felony grand theft for allegedly stealing $132,000 from her husband by forging his signature on an insurance check.
Scovis told jurors that her client used the money to pay off debts the family had incurred--including a hair plug procedure for Larry Childs--and did not tell her husband for fear he would “explode” and harm her or the children.
“She was terrorized by him,” Scovis said.
Scovis’ opening statement came after prosecutors wrapped up their case against the pair with testimony from two of Larry Childs’ co-workers, who said Childs was a decent man who never lost his temper at work.
“He seemed like a regular guy to me,” said James Hlavaty, human resources director for Larry Childs’ employer, Kenwood Americas Corp. in Long Beach. “He deals with people the way I would like to be dealt with.”
Jennifer Childs’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jean Farley, delivered her opening statement when the trial began July 23.
Outside court Tuesday, Farley said she hoped the defense can wrap up its case before the weekend.
Farley also said she planned to file a motion today to dismiss the attempted-murder charge against Jennifer Childs, who performs under the name Jenni Childs.
Farley said prosecutors have not offered any evidence to show her client intended to kill Larry Childs. Farley earlier introduced a statement from a secretly taped conversation between the two women in which Jennifer Childs says she struck her stepfather with a bat to “make him stop.”