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, lost a last-minute bid today to act as his own attorney as his murder trial nears an end.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rand Rubin noted that David Robert Viens was making the request "almost at the very end" of trial and that the 49-year-old defendant would not immediately be ready to proceed on his own with the trial if defense attorney Fred McCurry left the case.
"We have a difference in the trial tactics, your honor," Viens said outside the jury's presence, telling the judge that his attorney was opposed to calling some witnesses he wanted to testify.
Viens told the judge that he was "afraid" to represent himself, but said he felt like he had no choice.
"In my sound discretion, your request to represent yourself is respectfully denied," the judge told Viens just before the defense began the second and final day of its case.
Viens objected again -- this time in the jury's presence -- after his attorney told the judge that the defense would not be putting on any more witnesses after the prosecution called Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Richard Garcia back to the stand as a rebuttal witness.
"I object," the defendant said.
"Just have a seat, sir," the judge told him, asking his attorney to speak with Viens after excusing the jurors and noting that the defendant "literally did jump up" when he objected. Jurors were instructed to return to court Monday for closing arguments.
Viens is charged with murdering his 39-year-old wife, Dawn, who disappeared in October 2009. Her body has never been found.
Viens attends the court proceedings in a wheelchair as a result of injuries suffered when he jumped 80 feet down Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes on Feb. 23, 2011, after a sheriff's deputy tried to stop his vehicle and Viens' girlfriend unsuccessfully tried to stop him from plunging from the oceanfront cliff by grabbing his clothes.
The defense's last witness, Dr. Marvin Pietruszka, told jurors that Ambien -- the sleep-aid medication that Viens told sheriff's detectives he had taken shortly before taping up his wife -- can cause sleepiness and memory problems, along with a state of confusion in high doses.
"Can alcohol have an effect in correlation with Ambien?" McCurry asked the defense expert.
"Yes," the doctor responded, noting that it would increase the effect of the medication.
Charlie Negrete, a chef who had been trying out for an opening at Viens' restaurant, Thyme Contemporary Cafe, testified Wednesday that he and Viens had been drinking alcoholic beverages after going to two other restaurants on Oct. 18, 2009, the day Dawn Viens was last seen.
Under questioning by Viens' attorney, Pietruszka also told jurors that he reviewed Viens' medical records during his stay in a jail ward, in which he was receiving medication on March 15, 2011, the day Viens spoke with sheriff's detectives and told them he had cooked his wife for four days.
Viens was receiving an anti-anxiety drug, two strong painkillers and an anti-allergy drug, the doctor said, noting that side effects of the medications could include sleepiness, drowsiness, confusion and altered memory and that the side effects could depend on the dosage, the patient's metabolism and how many medications are being metabolized.
Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Richard Garcia, who interviewed Viens in his hospital bed, said he did not observe any signs that Viens was suffering from memory loss or having difficulties with cognitive functioning.
He noted that Viens' account that day was consistent with his statement to detectives two weeks earlier, as well as his earlier statement to his daughter, Jacqueline, who testified that her father told her that he had bound her stepmother with duct tape because he was trying to sleep and she would not leave him alone.
When asked if there was any signs of confusion by Viens during the March 15, 2011, interview, the sheriff's sergeant said, "No, he was very descriptive of what occurred that evening and the following day." He noted that Viens "was in some discomfort" and "was given some pain medication while we were there."
During that interview, Viens told the sheriff's detectives that he wrapped his wife's hands and feet and then put clear duct tape over her mouth and told her "good night" after she was "calling me all kinds of mean names and stuff." He said he woke up four hours later to find that she had died.
Viens said he initially put his wife's body in a closet, then "came up with the idea of cleaning the grease traps and commingling in ... the excess protein in those units."
"I cooked her four days. I let her cool, I strained it out as I, as I was in there, O.K.," he told investigators. Just after complaining of "excruciating pain" and being told by a nurse that she had his pain medications, Viens can be heard in the tape- recorded interview telling investigators he believed there was one bag of body parts remaining.
"I'm confused now, and -- because of these dreams and stuff I've had. I think the skull is there ... in my mother's attic," Viens said.
He told investigators that he had "buried everything else in like the garbage bags very carefully ... in my dumpster mixed in ... strategically placed in with debris and other crap," and that "you can put me on a polygraph test any day of the week and I'll pass that."
Investigators searched the attic at the Torrance home of Viens' mother, but did not find any remains.