The lead prosecutor and defense attorney delivered closing arguments today in the case of a former Lomita restaurant owner who told investigators he bound his wife with duct tape, panicked when he awoke to find her dead and "cooked" her body for four days to get rid of her remains.
David Viens, 49—charged with murder in the October 2009 disappearance of his 39-year-old wife, whose body has not been found—appeared in court in a wheelchair as a result of injuries sustained when he jumped off a cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil carefully laid out the distinction between charges of first- and second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter and then spoke to jurors about the victim, Dawn Viens.
From the outside, her life looked "like the American Dream," Brazil said, noting that the couple met when Dawn was 22 and then worked together to build a small restaurant business.
Brazil cited alleged incidents of domestic violence as the darker side of the Viens life together. She recalled a friend's testimony during trial that Dawn told her that Viens had choked her and, on another occasion, threatened to beat her up. But Dawn begged her friend not to call police, allegedly saying Viens "won't forgive me if I call the police."
Brazil painted a picture of a man racked with guilt rather than grief.
"He displays the demeanor of a man getting away with murder," Brazil said of Viens during the months he maintained his wife had gone missing. "He put people who loved Dawn Viens through day after day of pain and agony."
Brazil replayed portions of a tape-recorded March 15, 2011 interview of David Viens by sheriff's detectives about three weeks after he jumped 80 feet down a cliff at Inspiration Point. Viens testified that he cooked his wife Dawn's body in a vat that was "heavy for me to carry" and that her "whole body fit in there."
"I manipulated her face so the face was—the face is down, and I took some, some things like weights that we use, and I put them on the top of her body, and I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days," Viens told sheriff's detectives while hospitalized in a jail ward for injuries sustained in his cliffside jump.
Defense attorney Fred McCurry insisted that prosecutors had no actual physical evidence and questioned the validity of his client's confession.
McCurry said prosecutors focused on the alleged gruesome details of the confession "because it elicits an emotional response. It just sounds so brutal and so macabre. It's something that's designed to elicit that emotion. It's something that's designed to make you not look at, 'OK, is it reasonable?"'
McCurry noted that investigators interviewed Viens when he was hospitalized after attempting suicide by jumping off a cliff, and while he was on a variety of painkillers.
McCurry recalled testimony by defense witness Dr. Marvin Pietruszk, who told jurors about the side effects that Ambien—the sleep-aid medication that Viens told sheriff's detectives he had taken shortly before taping up his wife—can cause.
It can create "hallucinations, memory difficulty, inability to recall, drowsiness," McCurry said. "Side effects that impair a person's mental functions."
Last week, Viens asked to represent himself because of he said were differences in trial tactics and disagreements about some witnesses his attorney did not want to call. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rand Rubin denied the request given the late stage of the trial.
The defense will continue its argument Tuesday and then the prosecution will have an opportunity for rebuttal.