The Scott Barker murder trial in Beverly Hills started up again on Wednesday after a two-day recess, with court observers anticipating the testimony of Chie Johnson, a former rhythmic gymnast who found herself involved in prostitution and pornography and as a suspect in the brutal murder of 21-year-old Beverly Hills resident Tony Takazato.
Before Johnson's testimony in person, L.A. County prosecutors Linda Loftfield and Amy Carter showed the jury a video of Johnson's 2010 taped interview with Beverly Hills Police Department detectives, which resulted in her being charged for murder. The video, oddly enough, played into the defense's previous attempts to paint Johnson as a "pathological liar" who cannot be trusted.
The murder trial involves a bizarre love triangle that went bone-chillingly sideways -- and one that the L.A. media has taken little interest in, although it may speak more to L.A.'s dark side of broken dreams and ugly behavior than another Lindsay Lohan bust.
According to the prosecution, Barker, who was 23 years old at the time and not paying his rent as he tried to land work in the entertainment industry, was enraged that Takazato had pushed his girlfriend, then 20-year-old Chie Alexandra Coggins Johnson, into prostitution and pornography. Takazato was also abusive toward Johnson, the prosecution said.
Johnson and Takazato were once romantically linked, but that turned into a "friendship," the prosecutors said. Friends don't usually ask other friends to help pay off their gambling debts by going into the troublesome worlds of porn and prostitution, but that's exactly what Takazato asked Johnson to do, according to the prosecution. And she continued to live on and off with Takazato in Beverly Hills.
In the early morning of July 20, 2010, all that ended.
According to the prosecution, Barker went to Takazato's Trousdale Estates home in Beverly Hills and stabbed him 58 times, leaving Takazato in a pool of blood and with wounds to the face, the arms, the neck, and the back of the head. The fatal wound was a knife thrust to the heart. Johnson was initially at the scene and drove away.
Bradley Brunon said in his opening statement that Johnson, who worked closely with the prosecution, is a "pathological liar" and Barker did not commit the murder.
On Wednesday, Sept. 19, L.A. prosecutor Amy Carter showed a video of Johnson being interrogated by two Beverly Hills Police Department detectives, with Detective George Elwell leading the questioning. Elwell sat on the witness stand when the video was played.
Johnson arrived at the station with Barker at around 11 p.m. on July 20, 2010, and they were taken to separate rooms. From the start, Johnson appeared on edge, and spoke very softly. When asked by Elwell if she knew why she was being questioned, she was hesitant to guess but thought it had to do with Takazato.
Johnson was vague and cautious in her answers throughout the interrogation. She would only describe her relationship with Takazato as "complicated," and although she was living with him for months and had known Takazato since 2007, she refused to name any of his friends -- except for one man only known as "Ace."
After the detectives explained to Johnson that they had talked with her mother, Susan Coggins, hours earlier and knew many details about Johnson and Takazato, including the fact that she was involved in prostitution and pornography, she started to open up slightly.
Johnson explained that Takazato had "many enemies," he "owed quite a few people" money, "gambling people" often came up to Takazato's home, and he was "very secretive."
At one point, Elwell asked Johnson if she knew someone called Eddie. Takazato, his live-in housekeeper told police, yelled the name "Eddie" at the time of his vicious murder.
Johnson said she didn't know anyone by that name. Elwell, however, had looked on her Facebook page before the questioning and found a "friend" named Eddie, who was also a friend of Takazato's.
At that point, Elwell placed a picture of Eddie in front of her. Johnson stared it, and said quietly that she did know him. Caught not telling the truth, Johnson then shut down and soon asked for a lawyer.
Minutes after that, the detectives told her she was being charged with murder, slapped on metal handcuffs, and placed her under arrest.
Johnson eventually worked out a deal with the L.A. County District Attorney's Office. Her testimony against former boyfriend Scott Barker will be key to the prosecution's case.
On cross examination, Bradley Brunon asked Elwell if the Beverly Hills police had looked into Johnson's prostitution clientele. The detective said there was one attempt that led to a "dead end." After that, the police didn't look any further. Brunon also got Elwell to admit that the police never looked into Takazato's "enemies" that Johnson had talked about.
Brunon also asked if Beverly Hills police had looked for fingerprints on a glass door at Takazato's home that Johnson later said Barker had touched just before the murder. Elwell said they did not.
Johnson will face Brunon during cross-examination; she probably will take the stand sometime this week.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.