Did Scott Barker Knife Rich Kid Tony Takazato to Save His Girlfriend from Prostitution?
ILLUSTRATION BY JONATHAN BARTLETT
Around the corner from the Beverly Hills Courthouse, next to a row of cypress trees, European tourists stand waiting to board a double-decker bus. Many hope to see a glimpse of the real Los Angeles — and maybe spot a movie star or two. If the tourists knew about the murder tale unfolding before a judge less than a block away, they might skip the sightseeing for a jolting dose of L.A's true noir side.
Dark realities — a twisted love triangle, an allegedly bent and violent "hero," a troubled young Asian-American gambler-turned-pimp, a beautiful black Westside rhythmic gymnast allegedly pressured into prostitution — are unfolding at the courthouse.
Scott Joseph Barker, 25, is on trial for first-degree murder, accused of stabbing 21-year-old Katsutoshi "Tony" Takazato 58 times and leaving him in a pool of blood in the carport of the Takazato family's multimillion-dollar home in Beverly Hills' posh Trousdale Estates.
Barker was dating Takazato's ex-girlfriend, former gymnast Chie Alexandra Coggins Johnson, and allegedly hunted Takazato down at his home with a kitchen knife, enraged that Takazato had pushed the young woman he loved into prostitution and porn.
It's been 20 years since a murder disrupted life in Trousdale Estates. In 1992, Justin Zeitsoff, 17, the popular son of a Malibu city councilwoman, was found dead in the trunk of his BMW in front of Greystone Mansion — the victim of a hit man hired after Zeitsoff ripped somebody off in a gun deal. Two men went to prison in that murder.
Something even more tragic is playing out in the trial now before Judge Elden S. Fox. The brutal July 20, 2010, early-morning attack that left Takazato dead occurred while his father, Fuminori Hayashida, a producer of such B-movies as Basil and Lured Innocence (featuring Dennis Hopper), was away. He lives in Japan. Takazato's mom died when he was 3, and after that Hayashida allowed his son to be raised by a housekeeper in their Trousdale Estates manse, according to prosecutors.
The absentee father has yet to visit the trial, but has been in contact with the district attorney. George and Cheryl Barker, Scott's parents who live in Florida, have attended every day — but their son rarely, if ever, acknowledges them.
It's clear that three attractive young people made terrible life choices leading up to Takazato's alleged murder. Johnson, now 22, who dated both Takazato and Barker, has told L.A. County deputy district attorneys Linda Loftfield and Amy Carter that she drove Barker from the murder scene to Malibu, where Barker washed his bloody clothes and blood-soaked car mats in the ocean and stashed them in a Malibu ravine.
According to Loftfield, minutes after slashing Takazato to death, Barker turned to Johnson in the getaway car and said, "He was such a pussy." Defense attorney Bradley Brunon, who represented Phil Spector in his first murder trial, says the prosecutor's case is tenuous and that Barker "has no history of violence."
However, a torn piece of black fabric was found by Beverly Hills police clutched in Takazato's lifeless hand. Prosecutors say a shirt hidden in the Malibu ravine matches that bit of cloth.
Born in the United States, Takazato, according to both the prosecution and defense, was in deep trouble with major gambling debts by age 21. Loftfield says he pushed the attractive Chie Johnson to get into prostitution and pornography to raise the cash. Loftfield told the jury that Johnson, who'd been kicked out of her mom's house, was living with Takazato and felt "pressured" to go along with his outlandish scheme. In Johnson's mind, Loftfield said, "It was only fair to contribute to the income."
But Brunon claims that Johnson "had been doing [prostitution] for years."
According to Loftfield, Johnson hadn't obeyed the rules at her mother's home and got the boot. "She did a 'tough love,' " the prosecutor said of the mother, who lives on the Westside and in 2008 sent her daughter to drug rehab in Utah.
By most accounts, the Takazato-Johnson relationship was stormy. According to Loftfield, Johnson once filed a police report against Takazato, but he was never charged with anything. "She was never hospitalized," Loftfield assured the jury. "There were never serious injuries."
But defense attorney Brunon says Takazato "beat [Johnson] with his fists ... he beat her with broomsticks." And he says of Johnson: "When she gets into trouble, her first reaction is to lie." He warned the jury days ago: "She will come to you as a vulnerable, naive woman. Do not be deceived by appearances."
Brunon tells L.A. Weekly that the prosecution's case, though "filled with little details," relies heavily on selling the idea that Chie Johnson is a truthful person. "That's their biggest obstacle," he says.
What put Scott Barker over the top, prosecutors contend, was that after he dated Johnson for a few weeks in mid-2010, she admitted to him that he was not really dropping her off at her "mother's" home in the 1800 block of lush Carla Ridge in Trousdale Estates — but at the home of her ex-boyfriend, Takazato. Johnson later told Barker, according to Loftfield, that Takazato had been abusive and had pressured her into prostitution and porn.
Early the morning of July 20, 2010, after a night of hard partying and playing the video game Rock Band, Loftfield says an agitated Barker, playing the role of twisted hero, dressed in black like a ninja and then demanded Johnson accompany him to Takazato's.
There, Barker produced a knife, and when Johnson asked what he was going to do with it, he told her, "I'm just going to scare him," according to Loftfield.
The couple climbed a spiked metal fence to get onto the grounds of the estate, and although Johnson was "pleading" with Barker to leave, she agreed to get Takazato to come to the door — while Barker hid out of sight, prosecutors say. They contend that after talking briefly to her ex-boyfriend at the door, Johnson left, hoping Barker would follow her off the grounds.
But prosecutors say Johnson heard Takazato exclaim, "What the fuck!" At that point Johnson jumped in the car and drove off without Barker, they say, but he suddenly appeared in the road, holding a blood-soaked shirt, and Johnson picked him up.
Prosecutors introduced a video taken by a Beverly Hills Police Department cruiser as it responded to a 911 call from Takazato's housekeeper. The video showed a black Volkswagen Jetta — the same make and model as Barker's car — zipping away as the police unit approached the area.
Johnson spent a year in jail facing murder charges but eventually pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon and was given five years' probation. In his opening statement on Sept. 5, Brunon told the jury, "She knows [the police] are going to find out she has a reason to hate Tony. ... She saves herself. She makes a deal."
Johnson has worked with prosecutors to create their legal narrative. But Brunon says someone else took her to Takazato's and carried out the vicious murder. "She takes the real culprit out of the equation," Brunon told the jury, "and puts Scott in."
Brunon is expected to present the defense's case soon. He tells L.A. Weekly that Barker's parents are "mortified. It's incomprehensible for them to think their son, who's never had legal problems, would murder somebody." He says they are certain their son is innocent.
Barker moved to Los Angeles with dreams of breaking into the entertainment industry. But according to former roommate Annie Smythe, whom Barker found through Craigslist, in 2010 he was much more into snorting coke at their rented Koreatown condo, drinking and going to clubs and parties. Barker met Chie Johnson on one of those nights.
"He didn't get up in the morning" most days, Smythe told the jury. "Why would he? He had nowhere to go."
She locked up her food because Barker was helping himself, and he failed to pay the rent, she testified — but he did get a pit bull. Barker suggested to Smythe that eviction was the perfect solution to get out of debt to his landlord, but Smythe, then a USC student, instead paid Barker's $500 rent for two months. Barker's parents, in the meantime, regularly sent him expensive Omaha steaks, which he only sometimes shared, Smythe said.
In court, Barker has dark circles under his eyes, and his head is shaved to a crew cut. He sometimes whispers to Brunon but mostly stares ahead.
Just before the murder, prosecutor Loftfield told the jury, Barker was planning to take Chie Johnson with him to Florida. He wanted them to start a new life — away from L.A.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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