Businesswoman acquitted in model’s death sues Santa Monica police
A woman acquitted of murder last year in connection to the high-profile slaying of an aspiring model filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Santa Monica police of intimidating witnesses and damaging her reputation.
Kelly Soo Park, 48, alleges three witnesses who planned to testify on her behalf were scared off or tainted by Santa Monica Police Det. Karen Thompson.
“We just want to present to the world and to the court that what’s being portrayed in the media now is an incomplete story,” Park’s attorney, Ron Kaye, said of the lawsuit. “What we would have hoped is rather than putting Park through a jury trial, police had looked at who would have been motivated to murder Juliana Redding.”
The case stems from the strangling of 21-year-old Redding in her Santa Monica home in March 2008. Female DNA belonging to a possible suspect was found on items at the scene, including on Redding’s neck. Two years later, Thompson matched the samples to Park’s DNA.
Prosecutors alleged a Beverly Hills doctor sent Park to shake down Redding in hopes that it would convince the young woman’s father to reconsider a business deal he had just dropped with the doctor. Redding had previously been friends with the doctor too.
But a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence for prosecutors to present that possible motive during trial, leaving DNA evidence as the crucial link between Park and Redding’s death. Park’s lawyers argued her DNA could have transferred to Redding’s home through a third party.
Last June, a Los Angeles jury found Park not guilty, a result that crushed Redding’s family and surprised even some defense experts.
Park, who co-owns a restaurant, alleges in the lawsuit that she’s entitled to damages because despite being freed she’s suffered from “extreme and severe mental anguish” as a result of Thompson and other unidentified police officers interfering with her ability to present “the most complete defense.” So despite being acquitted, she’s been portrayed by the media “as essentially ‘getting away with murder.’ ”
According to the lawsuit, Melissa Ayala was prepared to testify that she entered into a romantic relationship with Redding’s ex-boyfriend, John Gilmore, after her death. Ayala told defense investigators she was choked by Gilmore three times, including when he said, “You want to see how she [Juliana] felt?”
But Park alleges Thompson intervened a week later to dissuade Ayala from taking the stand. In a recorded call between Thompson and Ayala cited in the lawsuit, Thompson says, “And first, what I want to tell you is that John [Gilmore] is not the killer…[plaintiff’s investigators] are going to tell every lie they can to try and get her off.”
Thompson also said that Gilmore, who had pleaded guilty to assaulting Ayala, was “upset” by her apparent plan to testify, at one point prompting Ayala interject: “I just don’t -- I don’t -- I don’t want to hurt John in any way.”
After being issued a subpoena to testify, Ayala invoked her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination during a hearing.
The lawsuit also accuses Thompson of having Ventura authorities arrest Ronnie Case, described by prosecutors as Park’s boyfriend, to get him to testify against Park.
Thompson said in an email cited in the lawsuit she wanted to “twist” Case “to see if we can flip him [with some immunity]. I hope [Case] has harsh feelings toward the lovely Ms. Park.”
The lawsuit also contends Thompson took a different approach with Park’s then-fiance and now husband Thomas Chronister, a retired Oxnard Police Department commander. Thompson allegedly called department officials in hopes of “sullying his reputation and calling his ethics into question” to weaken his credibility as a witness on Park’s behalf.
Thompson and the Santa Monica Police Department declined to comment Wednesday. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.
A year before Park’s trial, the police department rewarded Thompson with a Medal of Merit for solving the case while working on it during her own time.
“Detective Thompson wanted to make sure the basis for her medal was never undermined,” Kaye said.
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