A former airline baggage handler upset at having to pay his ex-girlfriend child support took their 4-year-old daughter for a walk along the Palos Verdes Peninsula and hurled the child off a 120-foot cliff to her death, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Cameron John Brown, 47, decided to kill the girl as he waged a rancorous battle to reduce his court-ordered payments to her mother, whom he despised, Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum told the jury at the close of a seven-week trial.
Brown has long insisted he is innocent and told authorities that his daughter slipped and fell while throwing rocks off the bluff at Inspiration Point on Nov. 8, 2000.
Tuesday’s closing arguments marked the second time prosecutors have asked a jury to convict Brown of murder. In 2006, a jury deadlocked, with two members voting to convict Brown of first-degree murder, eight voting for second-degree murder and two favoring manslaughter.
As he did during the first trial, Hum told the new jury that Brown never wanted his child and initially urged her mother, a British immigrant, to get an abortion after he learned she was pregnant. When she refused, he tried to have her deported and fired from her job, Hum said.
As Brown later struggled to pay $1,000 a month in support payments, he decided that killing Lauren would hurt her mother and ease his money troubles, the prosecutor said.
“The truth is she was a financial burden,” Hum told the jurors in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom. “The truth is she destroyed his carefree surfer lifestyle.”
Defense attorney Pat Harris told jurors that the prosecutor had offered a distorted portrait of a father who had grown to love his daughter the more time he spent with her.
Brown initially harbored suspicions that the baby was not his, the attorney said. But later, after a paternity test, he embraced his daughter and asked the court to allow him to spend extra time with her, Harris said.
“That, ladies and gentleman, is a human being,” Harris said, pointing at his client, who listened intently but showed little emotion. “They have to make him into a monster.”
The mystery over what happened to Lauren on the cliff-top walk overlooking the Pacific Ocean has lasted nearly a decade.
There were no witnesses to the girl’s fall, besides Brown. And sheriff’s investigators, struck by his apparent lack of emotion after the incident, soon questioned why a father would take his child to such a secluded, dangerous spot and let her roam.
The two trials have offered sharply contrasting views of Brown and the victim’s injuries, which authorities say undermine his version of what happened.
Defense attorneys drew testimony from friends and family about how Brown cared for a grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease and enjoyed time with his daughter, bringing her to his boat and to meet his family.
Harris showed jurors several photos of Brown posing with Lauren during visits. He said the girl’s mother, Sarah Key-Marer, had previously asked whether he would give up his parental rights and allow her new husband to adopt Lauren, an action that would have ended his child support payments.
“He refused to do it,” Harris said. “Why? Because he wanted his daughter.”
Harris said several scrapes and bruises found on the girl’s body corroborated Brown’s assertion that she slipped at the top of the cliff before hurtling over the side.
But the prosecutor cited autopsy findings that the small cuts and bruises were too minor to be caused by the type of slip and fall as described by Brown. Had she slipped, Lauren would have suffered far more scrapes and scratches as she tried to stop herself, according to the L.A. County coroner’s office.
In addition, sheriff’s deputies found no evidence of any slippage or disturbance in the area where Brown told them his daughter had fallen, Hum said.
Brown, he said, was overcome with hatred for Lauren’s mother and waged a campaign of terror against her, falsely accusing her of child abuse before the girl’s death, refusing to tell her about her daughter’s death and later falsely telling police she had threatened to kill him.
“It shows just how vindictive he actually is,” Hum told jurors. “Innocent people don’t need to lie.”