Mullenix case avoids mistrial

The murder and conspiracy trial of Rachael Mullenix nearly flew off the rails Monday afternoon, before the judge rejected a request for a mistrial by the defense and allowed the case to continue.

It all began as prosecutor Sonia Balleste cross-examined defense witness Veronica Thomas, a psychologist hired to evaluate Mullenix. In the PowerPoint presentation she used to illustrate her questions about the defendant’s psychology, Balleste included an image of a poem written by Mullenix, titled “Female Player.” But Judge David A. Thomas angrily stopped the proceedings, saying that the poem had been denied as admissible evidence.

While Balleste protested that she was only using the document because Thomas herself used it in her assessment, Thomas rejected that argument.

“In my view, nothing should be published to the jury unless it’s admitted into evidence,” Thomas said.

Mullenix’s attorney, David Cohn, asked for a mistrial, saying the poem could have prejudiced the jury by playing into the prosecution’s claims she was a manipulator. But Thomas denied the motion, saying it was sufficient to instruct jurors to ignore the whole presentation.

“I don’t think this is a problem that can’t be cured,” Thomas said. “We’ll instruct the jury that nothing the attorneys say is evidence. Nothing shown to them on the overhead projectors is evidence.”

Prosecutors say that Mullenix manipulated her boyfriend Ian Allen into helping her brutally stab her mother, Barbara Mullenix, to death in the Huntington Beach condominium where the Mullenixes lived in 2006, then dumped the body in Newport Beach waters.

The rest of the day was the beginning of Cohn’s case to defend his client against those charges, but he began by saying that Mullenix’s first story to police — that Allen kidnapped her — was phony.

“You’re going to hear about the fact that there was this hatched plan to go out to Florida, and if anybody catches up, to say, ‘I kidnapped you,’” Cohn said. “Ian Allen was head over heels in love with Rachael. You’re going to hear the evidence that Ian Allen felt he was saving Rachael. He was even willing to take responsibility for even the aftermath and the cleanup.”

Cohn also said Mullenix, then 17, never planned to kill her mother, and instead planned to run away in the night with Allen so they could pursue a relationship she had forbidden. But when Barbara Mullenix confronted them, the heated argument that followed led to Allen killing the woman despite her daughter’s protesting, he said. In the aftermath, her damaged emotional makeup led her to act in ways that are hard to understand, he said.

“She did not plan, agree, conspire, or discuss the killing of her mother with Ian Allen,” Cohn said. “She did not manipulate Ian Allen to do such a thing. But you will hear from her that she did help after the fact to dispose of the body, clean up, and do things even she can’t explain why she did.”

Later that day, Mullenix’s best friend from ages 7 to 15 said she remembered a day Rachael Mullenix came to her house with bite marks on her back from her mother. Sarah Brewer, the friend, said the elder Mullenix came looking for her in an apparent drunken rage.

“She was banging on windows and just screaming,” Brewer said.

Mullenix herself is expected to take the stand Tuesday morning in her own defense, in what may be the last day evidence is heard.

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