The former owner of a Lomita restaurant said shortly before his wife disappeared in October 2009 that he believed she was stealing money from him and threatened to kill her, a prosecution witness testified today during his murder trial.
Richert Todd Stagnitto told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury he was at Thyme Contemporary Cafe with David Viens on Oct. 18, 2009 as the restaurateur flipped through receipts for the business and became very angry.
"He said, 'That bitch is stealing from me. Nobody steals from me. I will kill that bitch," Stagnitto told the six-man, six-woman panel.
When asked on cross-examination if he was 100 percent sure Viens made the statement, Stagnitto responded, "Yes, I am."
Viens, 49, is charged with murder in connection with the October 2009 disappearance of his 39-year-old wife, Dawn, whose body has never been found.
Viens—who leaped over a cliff on Feb. 23, 2011, as his girlfriend and a sheriff's deputy pleaded with him to stop—appeared in court in a wheelchair as a result of his injuries from the 80-foot jump.
Kathy Galvan, who said she began a romantic relationship with Viens the month after his wife disappeared, testified she frantically tried to stop her then-boyfriend as he prepared to jump from Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes.
"I got out of the car with him. He said, 'I'm sorry. No one's going to believe me,'" the 4-foot-11-inch, 98-pound woman testified, noting she tried to prevent him from jumping by grabbing his clothes before he plunged downward.
Galvan testified Viens returned to their Torrance apartment that morning with a newspaper article detailing how the missing person's investigation into Dawn Viens' disappearance had turned into a homicide investigation.
She testified Viens told her, "I'm really, really sorry. She's not coming back. It was an accident."
The young woman testified Viens was "crying a lot" as he drove her to the Palos Verdes area, where a sheriff's patrol car tried to pull over their vehicle.
Galvan—who worked for Viens but is no longer in a relationship with him—said she had taken down a missing person's poster about Dawn Viens at the restaurant "because I didn't really think she was missing." She said she believed the woman left on her own.
Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Jeffrey Farmar testified he was monitoring traffic in Rancho Palos Verdes when he spotted a silver Toyota 4Runner he had been advised to look for, and that the vehicle gradually started to accelerate—eventually reaching speeds of about 80 mph—after he tried to initiate a traffic stop.
The sheriff's deputy identified Viens as the man he saw getting out of the vehicle and climbing over the railing.
"She (the woman with him) was grabbing on to his clothing and she was yelling out, 'Stop,' " Farmar testified. "Once he went over the railing, I yelled out, 'Don't do this. Come back. We just want to talk to you.' "
The deputy said Viens told him, "You know who I am," and called him a "liar" when he responded he didn't know who Viens was.
Viens kissed the woman and spoke to her before pushing her away with both of his hands, taking a few steps and jumping off the cliff feet-first, Farmar told jurors. The deputy said he whisked the woman away from the railing.
Jurors heard earlier this week from Viens' youngest daughter, Jacqueline, who told sheriff's detectives that in February 2011 her father told her he had bound his wife with duct tape because he was trying to sleep and she wouldn't leave him alone. The daughter testified Viens told her Dawn Viens' body would never be discovered.
Viens initially told authorities investigating his wife's October 2009 disappearance that she had left him, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil told jurors during her opening statement Wednesday.
But in March 2011, he told sheriff's investigators he taped her mouth, hands and legs because she wanted to do cocaine but she was dead when he woke up the next morning, Brazil told jurors.
Defense attorney Fred McCurry did not give an opening statement, instead reserving that option for the start of the defense case.
Testimony is expected to resume Tuesday.