The former owner of a Lomita restaurant—who jumped head-first over an oceanfront cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes while under surveillance involving his wife's disappearance—admitted that he had bound her with duct tape and disposed of her body so it would never be found, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday in his murder trial.
David Robert Viens' youngest daughter, Jacqueline, told sheriff's detectives in February 2011 that her father told her that he bound his wife, Dawn, with duct tape because he was trying to sleep and she wouldn't leave him alone, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil told the six-man, six-woman panel hearing the case against the 49-year-old man.
He told the young woman, now 22, that her stepmother's body would never be discovered, according to the prosecutor.
Viens—who is charged with murdering his wife—jumped head-first 80 feet down over a cliff at the Inspiration Point scenic outlook in Rancho Palos Verdes while being watched by law enforcement the day after his daughter told him she had spoken with detectives, Brazil told jurors.
"That is why he sits before you in a wheelchair," she said, referring to the defendant, noting that his injuries were sustained as a result of his cliffside jump.
Viens—who had initially told authorities looking into his wife's October 2009 disappearance that she had left him—told sheriff's investigators in March 2011 that he taped her mouth, hands and legs because she wanted to do cocaine and that she was dead when he woke up the next morning, the prosecutor told the Los Angeles Superior Court panel.
Dawn Viens was reported missing by her sister, who had been contacted by a friend who was worried about what had happened to her.
"The defendant's statement to his daughter that her (his wife's) body will never be found proves to be true," Brazil told jurors, maintaining that Dawn Viens' death was "no accident."
Defense attorney Fred McCurry did not give an opening statement, instead reserving that option for the start of the defense's case.
The prosecution's first witness, Jacqueline Viens, said her father initially told her that her stepmother had "taken off for a few days" and asked her to pack the woman's clothes in trash bags and to take them to a storage unit. Her father said he had received text messages from Dawn Viens after she left Los Angeles, the young woman testified.
"You now know that Dawn didn't send any text messages to him?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes," Viens' daughter responded.
She said her father told her one night after they had been drinking and as he drove them home from the restaurant he owned, Thyme Contemporary Cafe, that his wife would never be returning.
Jacqueline Viens said that her father told her that he had been trying to sleep, that his wife "kept trying to talk to him" and that he tied her up so she would leave him alone. He said his wife's body would never be found, she said.
"Were you shocked?" Brazil asked.
"Yes," she responded.
Under cross-examination, Viens' daughter said her father had described her stepmother's death as an accident.
"He was very emotional," she said.
She acknowledged sending a text message purporting to be from Dawn Viens at her father's request, she said.
"You knew she was dead and you did it anyway?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes," she responded.
Jacqueline Viens testified that she spoke to Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives—who had flown to see her in South Carolina in February 2011—and agreed that she would tell her father that she had spoken to law enforcement. She said she didn't remember her father's reaction.
When the prosecutor asked if Viens had ever said what he would do if he wanted to get rid of a body, the defendant's daughter said he had joked about cooking a body. On cross-examination, she said the discussion was not a serious conversation.
The couple's neighbor, Donna Morton, testified that she recalled hearing an argument between the Viens on Oct. 18, 2009. She said that she later asked Viens where his wife was and that he responded they were not together anymore.
Los Angeles County sheriff's Detective James Dondis testified that Viens said he did not know where his wife was when asked about her in November 2009. Viens cited ongoing marital problems stemming from her alleged drug and alcohol abuse.
Viens said the two had argued about two weeks earlier, and said she had left him numerous other times, the detective said.
Testimony is set to continue Thursday.