They trudged single file up the dusty and rocky trail Thursday, mindful of the precipitous cliff at their side and the pounding surf below.
A few stepped gingerly to the edge of the picturesque bluff in Rancho Palos Verdes, peeking down to the jagged rocks 120 feet beneath them. Some took notes while others hugged to keep warm and turned away from the gusty ocean wind.
But they were no ordinary sightseers. They were jurors examining the cliff where a 4-year-old girl plunged to her death 15 years ago.
Prosecutors say that her father, Cameron Brown, killed his daughter, Lauren, to avoid paying child support and to hurt her mother. They say Brown led Lauren on a “dangerous hike” before flinging her over the cliff on Nov. 8, 2000.
A defense attorney contends that the girl’s death was a tragic accident and that Brown loved and cared for his daughter. Lauren, Brown’s attorney has said, slipped and fell to her death.
The jurors’ trip Thursday was part of Brown’s third murder trial. Two previous juries deadlocked on whether he intentionally killed his daughter.
Before the trek up Inspiration Point, Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum escorted jurors to other sites along the route he said Brown and his daughter hiked that day.
Jurors — along with Judge George G. Lomeli, court officials and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies — walked through Abalone Cove Shoreline Park to the trailhead leading down to the beach.
Under the watch of two deputies, Brown stood quietly about 20 yards from the jurors, staring silently over the Pacific. He wore a blue and green windbreaker that flapped in the breeze, and a sweater covered his handcuffs.
The caravan stopped at a beachside nursery school where Hum said Brown and his daughter used the playground equipment before continuing their hike up to Portuguese Point, a bluff to which jurors were driven. There, Brown occasionally interrupted his gaze toward the horizon for conversations with his attorney or to look at jurors.
Hum explained to jurors how the locations corresponded to previous court testimony.
Near the end of the trip, jurors hiked up the narrow trail to Inspiration Point. The trail, which was steep at parts and lined with silt, was difficult to navigate for some jurors. Much of the route is lined with handrails, which Hum noted were built after Lauren’s death.
Jurors then approached the eastern edge of the bluff, where prosecutors say Brown threw Lauren onto the rocks and water below. Some jurors ventured to the edge to look before being called back by a bailiff.
At one point, a whale emerged from the ocean, drawing “oohs” from some jurors.
The cliff was the only site Brown did not attend.
The tour concluded with jurors visiting an archery range near Inspiration Point, which provided a sea-level vantage point to the rocky beach where Lauren’s body was found.
The jurors then loaded back into vans and were driven to the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.
Brown has remained in custody since he was first arrested in November 2003.
His first trial ended in 2006, with two jurors voting to convict him of first-degree murder, eight voting for second-degree murder and two favoring manslaughter.
In 2009, a jury split evenly between second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Hum declined to comment.
Jury deliberations are expected to begin early next week.