A former Lomita restaurant owner and chef who told sheriff's detectives he bound his wife with duct tape, panicked when he awoke to discover her dead and "cooked" her body for four days to get rid of her remains was convicted today of second-degree murder.
The six-man, six-woman panel deliberated for about five hours over three days before convicting David Viens, 49, of the killing of his 39-year-old wife, Dawn, who disappeared in October 2009. Her body has never been found.
During deliberations Wednesday, the jury asked for a definition of second-degree murder in a note to Superior Court Judge Rand S. Rubin, who referred them to two jury instructions on murder. The jury had the option of convicting him of first- or second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Viens—who owned the now-shuttered Thyme Contemporary Cafe—is facing 15 years to life in state prison, with sentencing scheduled Nov. 27.
Outside court after the jury's verdict, the victim's sister, Dayna Papin, said, "There's no happy ending. I don't think there (are) any winners or losers. Two families have suffered tremendously and we will continue to. I don't think it's over. I think he's going to continue to fight."
Papin—wearing a large yellow butterfly pin in honor of her sister, who she said had an "obsession" with butterflies—told reporters that the verdict means "that he has to pay for what he did." She said her brother-in-law "tried to get away with it" and that "he lied for a long time."
Juror Tal Erickson said the panel was initially "bouncing" between first- and second-degree murder, but chose to convict him on second-degree murder "based on the evidence that we had."
"It was his words, but we were looking at the documentation, too," he said, noting that Viens' two interviews with sheriff's detectives in March 2011 "helped us."
" ... My opinion was if he was innocent he wouldn't jump off a cliff," Erickson said, referring to the defendant's Feb. 23, 2011, leap from an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes. The fall left him with injuries that have resulted in him being brought into the downtown Los Angeles courthouse in a wheelchair.
Karen Patterson—who described herself as a 20-year friend of the couple—told reporters she will wish for the rest of her life she had called police when Dawn Viens telephoned her in September 2009 and told her she was locked in a bathroom because her husband was angry with her. Patterson testified during the trial that she had seen a mark on Dawn Viens' neck in August 2009 and that her friend tearfully told her that Viens had tried to choke her.
"My good friend murdered my good friend," Patterson said, telling reporters she wants to visit Viens after he is sent to prison to "let him know that Dawn loved him dearly and he killed his wife of 17 years who'd been through everything with him, that trusted him and loved him and he treated her, literally, like a piece of meat and got rid of her. And shame on him...."
Viens told sheriff's detectives in March 2011 that "for some reason I just got violent" and that he bound his wife's mouth, hands and feet with duct tape. He said he had taped her up "probably twice" on other occasions because he "didn't want her driving around wasted, whacked out on coke and drinking."
He told investigators he woke up four hours later and panicked once he discovered that she was dead.
"I cooked her four days. I let her cool, I strained it out as I, as I was in there, O.K.," he told sheriff's detectives, noting that he dumped the remains in the trash.
Viens told sheriff's detectives that he believed there was one bag of body parts remaining and said he believed the skull was in his mother's attic. Investigators searched the attic at the home of Viens' mother, but they did not find any remains.
Viens' attorney, Fred McCurry, questioned the validity of his client's March 15, 2011, interview with sheriff's investigators, noting that Viens was on a variety of painkillers as a result of his injuries when he described what he had done with his wife after her death.
Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil countered that the defense was asking jurors to believe Viens' account that he had dumped his wife's body in a trash bin and to set aside "the more gruesome explanation that he cooked her for four days."
"The gruesome and horrific details ... came from his mouth and his mouth only," Brazil said.
In final remarks Tuesday, the prosecutor urged jurors to convict Viens of first-degree murder and said his wife's death "was no accident."
The prosecutor said Dawn Viens "likely met her death in a much more violent fashion"—such as being choked—than her husband described in interviews with Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators after initially denying knowledge of her whereabouts.
"That is why the defendant needed the four days to completely destroy and dispose of Dawn Viens' body," Brazil said.
Viens' attorney countered that "the evidence does not support murder."
"It does not support anything other than this was an accident," he told jurors. "Just because there was a death doesn't mean there was a murder."
McCurry urged jurors to acquit his client of murder, saying "the prosecution did not prove there was an intentional killing." He said after the verdict that he expects an appeal.