At murder trial, witnesses say Seabee spoke of harming man

Times Staff Writer

A Ventura County sailor, on trial for murder, spoke to numerous co-workers and friends on different occasions at the Navy's Seabee base about her desire to harm or kill the former husband of her roommate in the months before he was shot to death in December, several witnesses testified Tuesday.

Seabee Donald Kohler testified that he broke off a short relationship with Shannon Marie Butler, 23, because of her obsession with wanting to kill John Marmo Jr. Marmo, 27, was shot to death on Dec. 1 in front of the Camarillo condominium where he lived.

In addition to Butler, Marmo's former wife, Rebecca Golden Braswell, 26, a Navy mechanic, and Seabee Matthew Gerald Toerner, 20, the alleged trigger man, have been charged in connection with Marmo's slaying. A fourth Seabee, Seth Adrian Hardy, 20, is being prosecuted separately on two counts of attempted murder and for using an explosive device to injure or harm Marmo on two occasions last year.

All four suspects were stationed at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme.

Prosecutors believe Butler and Braswell plotted to frighten or harm Marmo in an attempt to get him to drop his bid to assume custody of the couple's now 5-year-old daughter, Heather Rae.

During Thursday's preliminary hearing in Ventura County Superior Court, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon said Butler repeatedly solicited the help of fellow sailors, telling them that she and Braswell had been physically assaulted by Marmo or other people sent by Marmo and that he needed to be stopped.

On at least one occasion, Kohler testified, Butler spoke of "cutting his brake lines, with him still in the car."

Another time, Kohler said he was having a cigarette in a smoking area on base when Butler "asked if anyone knew how to make explosives." Two male sailors that Kohler identified as Hardy and Toerner responded that they did.

"They both said they knew how, that they had done that stuff back home," Kohler said.

Kohler, a builder and petty officer third class, said Butler talked with him often about harming Marmo and had even offered money to him or anyone else willing to "abuse the victim, cause damage to the car [and] to make it look like an accident."

An informant, who is also in the Navy, came forward and helped investigators get Braswell on tape admitting that she owned a 9-mm handgun like the weapon used to kill her ex-husband, Simon said during his opening statement. When the informant offered to help Braswell dispose of the weapon, she responded, "I paid good money for that thing; I'm not getting rid of it," Simon said.

When she was arrested, Braswell denied any knowledge of the homicide, the prosecutor said, but when confronted with the tape, "she did a 180-degree turn around and said 'OK, I gave the gun to Shannon.... 'I didn't think she would go that far. She must have been crazy.' "

Raymie Huddleston, a Navy equipment operator who worked with Butler, testified that Butler regularly complained about the ex-husband of her girlfriend without mentioning Marmo by name. Huddleston also testified that Butler said she "had a problem" with this man and "spoke words to the effect of getting rid of" the former spouse.

Butler even asked Huddleston whether she knew where she could acquire a gun and offered $1,000 "to get a guy to kill" this man, Huddleston testified. And after Butler got a gun on her own by last fall, "she discussed switching the barrel of the gun so it couldn't be traced," she said.

Seabee Brian Linnell testified that he was an acquaintance of Butler and that she once showed him a 9 mm about two months before the homicide. At that point, Linnell said, "She asked if I would or if I knew anybody who would kill Marmo." The answer was "No," Linnell said.

Linnell said Butler later asked him whether he would help her covertly follow Marmo to track his whereabouts, a request he also refused. He added that Butler showed up on base several times with scabs and at least one black eye, saying that she was "jumped from behind," a victim of Marmo.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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