LOS ANGELES (AP) — A father was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder for tossing his 4-year-old daughter off a sea cliff nearly 15 years ago to get revenge against the girl's mother and avoid custody payments.
Cameron Brown showed no emotion as the verdict in the long-running case was read in Los Angeles Superior Court, while the mother of Lauren Sarene Key breathed heavily and began crying in the gallery.
Two previous juries have deadlocked over whether Brown was guilty of murder or manslaughter.
Brown, 53, faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole when sentenced June 19 for the murder and special circumstances that he lay in wait and killed the girl for financial gain.
"Judge, I'm innocent, I have no comment," Brown said when asked about the sentencing date.
Brown, an airline baggage handler at the time, hurled the girl off the 120-foot cliff in November 2000 because he never wanted the child and was locked in a bitter dispute with her mother over child support and custody, prosecutors said.
Brown told police the girl tripped and fell as she ran toward the cliff's edge at Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes. His lawyer had suggested jurors convict him of manslaughter.
The verdict that was nearly 12 years in coming took the jury little more than a day to reach.
Foreman Greg Apodaca said jurors were unanimous from their first discussions and it was a "relatively simple decision to make."
"The expert witnesses made it pretty clear and when we did the site visit it was clear to us, as well, that it didn't seem likely that a 4-year-old girl would be up there of her own volition," Apodaca said.
Prosecution experts said the girl's injuries were not consistent with an accidental fall because she couldn't have run fast enough to clear part of the cliff before either striking an outcropping or hitting the beach below. A defense witness said she could have died from an accidental fall.
Over about six weeks of testimony, jurors heard from most of the same witnesses as previous juries.
But this time Detective Jeffrey Leslie of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department found someone who said Brown said it would be "nice to get rid of Lauren" to get out of paying $1,000-a-month child support, Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said after the verdict.
"That witness made a significant difference," Hum said, though the primary motive was hatred toward the girl's mom, Sarah Key-Marer. "He hated Sarah so much that he was willing to go to these lengths to get back at her."
Hum told jurors that Brown's statements were riddled with lies and that Brown had wanted Key-Marer, a British citizen, to get an abortion and he even tried to get her deported.
Jurors in 2006 and 2009 had decided the death was a crime, but they couldn't agree on the charge. Eight voted for second-degree murder at his first trial, and four remaining votes were split between first-degree and involuntary manslaughter. The second panel split, with half voting for second-degree murder and half for manslaughter.
Key-Marer said she was in shock from the verdict.
"All I ever wanted was that he would take responsibility for what happened that day," she said. "It's all been really hard. The pain. We just learned to live with the pain."