3 Seabees to stand trial in slaying

Times Staff Writer

Three Navy Seabees were ordered to stand trial Wednesday in the fatal shooting of the ex-husband of one of the defendants.

Rebecca Golden Braswell, 26, the victim’s former spouse; her roommate, Shannon Marie Butler, 23; and Matthew Gerald Toerner, 20, are charged with the murder of John Marmo Jr. Marmo, 27, was shot to death Dec. 1 outside his Camarillo condominium.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge John Dobroth ordered the three sailors to stand trial following a two-day preliminary hearing in which he heard testimony from a key investigator in the case as well as witnesses who testified that Butler talked with them on different occasions about her desire to harm or kill Marmo.

The prosecution’s key witness Wednesday was Sheriff’s Det. Joe Evans, who had interviewed Braswell and Toerner.

Questioning Braswell four days after Marmo was killed, Evans said he repeatedly asked her if she owned a gun. Braswell answered that her only firearm was in Arizona, her home state.


The detective said he then told Braswell that he had listened in on a telephone conversation Braswell had had earlier that day with Ivan Condit, a sailor who had agreed to cooperate with law enforcement.

Condit told Braswell that he would be leaving town for about 10 days and offered to get rid of her Ruger P95 9-millimeter pistol, Evans testified. He said Braswell initially declined but that Condit persuaded her by saying the weapon could be traced.

When confronted about her deception, Evans testified, Braswell began crying and changed her story, explaining that she had lied because it was against regulations to possess private weapons at Naval Base Ventura County. Evans said Braswell told Condit that the handgun had been kept in a safe at her home, but Butler took it and refused to return it.

Evans testified that he and his partner, Det. Sgt. Steve Rhods, then had Condit contact Butler to arrange for her to place the weapon in Condit’s truck outside a Ventura restaurant. On Dec. 5, Butler placed the Ruger in a canvas backpack on the vehicle’s rear seat.

Spent bullets found at the scene of the slaying matched the 9 millimeter, investigators said.

In his interview with Toerner, Evans testified that the Seabee claimed to be asleep in the backseat of the rented car he and Butler drove to stake out Marmo’s condominium and awoke when Butler shot Marmo.

But Toerner eventually admitted that he fired the gun, Evans said. When he asked why Toerner did it, the Seabee replied that he felt “Shannon was in danger [from] Mr. Marmo, and he thought it was either Shannon or Marmo.”

On Tuesday, several witnesses testified that Butler repeatedly solicited fellow sailors to attack Marmo, telling them that she and Braswell had been physically assaulted by Marmo or others sent by him. Butler offered $1,000 to anyone who would seriously injure or kill her friend’s ex-husband.

Marmo, a former Navy aviation machinist’s mate, worked at a Camarillo equipment rental firm. Friends and family describe him as loyal and hardworking. What defined Marmo most, they said, was his love for his daughter, Heather Rae, even scrimping on weekday lunches to have money to treat her to a restaurant during their occasional visits.

Prosecutors believe it was the bitter and ongoing custody fight between Marmo and Braswell that led to his death.

Meanwhile, a fourth Seabee, Seth Adrian Hardy, 20, is being prosecuted separately on two counts of attempted murder and for allegedly using an explosive device to injure Marmo twice in October.

All four service members have pleaded not guilty.