Jurors asked Wednesday for the definition of second-degree murder as they spent a second day deliberating the fate of a former Lomita restaurant owner and chef who told 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.
The six-man, six-woman panel—which has spent about 4 1/2 hours considering the case against David Viens—made the request in a written note to Superior Court Judge Rand S. Rubin, who referred them to two jury instructions on murder.
Jurors are due back in court Thursday morning to resume their deliberations.
Viens, 49, is charged with murdering his 39-year-old wife, Dawn, who disappeared in October 2009. Her body has never been found.
In final remarks to the jury on Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil urged jurors to convict Viens of first-degree murder and said that 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, and "that is why the defendant needed the four days to completely destroy and dispose of Dawn Viens' body."
Defense attorney Fred McCurry countered that "'the evidence does not support murder."
"It does not support anything other than this was an accident," he told jurors in urging them to acquit his client of murder. "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."
Viens is brought into court in a wheelchair as a result of injuries he suffered during an 80-foot jump off a cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes in February 2011, shortly after telling his girlfriend that his wife's death was an accident. He had also told his daughter that his wife had died accidentally.
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—who was on pain medication at the time—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 did not find any remains.
Viens' attorney 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.
The prosecutor 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.