For the in-depth story about the Beverly Hills murder, read the L.A. Weekly story "Did Scott Barker Knife Rich Kid Tony Takazato to Save His Girlfriend from Prostitution?"
At the Scott Barker murder trial, in the Beverly Hills courtroom of Judge Elden S. Fox, the words and actions of three twenty-somethings have been the focus, with their parents receiving little attention. That changed this past Friday when Susan Coggins took the stand.
The story she had to tell was sad and devastating. It was only made worse by the obvious fact that Coggins had done everything in her power to help her wayward daughter, Chie Coggins-Johnson, and it still didn't work. At the end of her testimony, having just relived years of deep worry and sadness, the mother walked out of the courtroom in a daze.
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 former rhythmic gymnast Chie Alexandra Coggins-Johnson, into prostitution and pornography. Takazato was also abusive towards Coggins-Johnson, the prosecution said.
Coggins-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 to death 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 Coggins-Johnson, who worked closely with the prosecution, is a "pathological liar" and Barker did not commit the murder.
On Friday, September 16, L.A. County prosecutor Linda Loftfield's questioning of Susan Coggins started happily enough. In February 1990, Susan told the jury with a smile, she and her husband, Reginald Johnson, adopted a seven-week-old baby girl, whom they named Chie. They all lived in Los Angeles.
Four years later, Susan and Reginald got a divorce, and she raised Chie as a devoted single mother. "I always wanted to support her endeavors," Susan told the jury.
The mother paid for Chie's dancing lessons, moved her to a good public elementary school when the one closer to home was providing a less than stellar education, and supported her daughter's strong interest in rhythmic gymnastics.
"It was a very natural fit for her," Susan explained.
By the mid-2000s, though, Chie decided to quit.
"There came a point she felt she was too old," the mother said, "but she was not too old."
Then the troubling teenage years kicked in.
Susan explained that Chie started acting differently when she was 15. She was talking back and generally misbehaving. The mother chalked it up to a young woman going through some kind of phase. By 2007, however, Susan realized something much more serious was going on. Chie was having problems with drugs and alcohol.
Susan, a single working mother, decided to send her to an expensive residential substance abuse rehab in Utah, where Chie would stay for nearly a year and receive her high school diploma.
Just before Chie left Los Angeles, she met Tony Takazato, who asked Chie to his senior prom. Susan met him when he picked her daughter up for the big night.
A little more than a year later, after graduating with her high school diploma from the drug rehab, Chie returned home. Susan had been going to a support group for people in her kind of situation, and she laid down the rules of the house: no alcohol, no drugs, and no sex with men at her home.
At first, everything went smoothly. Chie got a job and enrolled in a community college. She appeared to be clean and sober, and Tony Takazato started coming around the house, helping Chie with her homework.
"Tony was always very respectful to me," Susan told the jury.
Takazato's movie producer father, Fuminori Hayashida, was rarely home, Susan testified, and she believed Tony liked being with her and Chie because they represented a family unit.
But things got out of hand again. Chie stopped going to work, and she didn't call her mother to tell her she wasn't coming home. Sometimes, Susan had no idea where Chie was.
"There was an air of disregard for everything," the mother said without anger. "She didn't care."
By the end of 2009, after giving her daughter a warning, Susan asked Chie to move out of her home. On January 1, 2010, she started living with Tony.
Sometimes Susan and Chie talked over they phone, sometimes they sent emails to each other. Once they met and Susan saw bruise marks on her daughter's arms. Chie played it down and said Tony "grabbed her sometimes." Then in late May or early June 2010, Chie asked Susan to meet a new boyfriend: Scott Barker.
"We had a delightful evening," Susan told the jury, "and I got stuck with the check."
It was the only time Susan, who often got choked up during her testimony, could find some humor in the whole ordeal. In the courtroom gallery, Scott Barker's parents, George and Cheryl, who have attended every day of their son's murder trial, appeared guardedly amused too.
Susan described Scott as a "nice young man," and they would meet again a few weeks later under much different circumstances.
On July 13, seven days before Tony Takazato was murdered, Susan got a call from a distressed Chie. She said she needed to come home and talk, and that Scott would be with her. As soon as Susan saw her daughter, she could sense something was very wrong.
"She came in like a scared puppy," Susan recalled. "Her head was down. Her shoulders were bent. It seemed like she was carrying something very heavy."
After some prodding by Scott, and after he went outside with his Pit Bull puppy, Chie told Susan what was going on: Tony was "videotaping" her for money.
That's where Susan left it with prosecutor Loftfield, who didn't inquire further. But during the cross examination, Bradley Brunon, Barker's defense attorney, got more of the horrible details.
Chie told Susan that Tony was prostituting her to his friends. Her daughter also said that Tony was videotaping Chie having sex with his friends, and selling that footage one way or another for money. And all of this took place so Tony and Chie could meet the "household expenses."
Earlier in her testimony, prosecutor Loftfield asked Susan how she felt about Chie's heart-breaking news.
"I'm her Mom," Susan told Loftfield, "and it made me very sad to think she didn't think she had other resources."
Susan added, "She never really realized how good she was, and what she had to offer. So she settled for something less than what she was worth."
When Chie was finished telling her mother everything, Susan told her daughter, "I will love you no matter what."
"That was the way we left it," Susan told Loftfield.
Around midnight of July 20, Susan got another phone call from Chie. She was at the Beverly Hills Police Department, her daughter said, and she was charged for the murder of Tony Takazato.
"What did you do?" prosecutor Loftfield asked the mother.
"I cried," Susan replied -- and then she went about in the middle of the night trying to find her daughter a lawyer.
Before that phone call, during the day of July 20, Susan already thought something was up, but she didn't know what.
Detectives from the Beverly Hills Police Department had visited her home and asked several questions about Chie. Even though her daughter had put her through an emotional wringer for several years, Susan was reluctant to cooperate.
"I thought I was being disloyal in giving them information," Susan told Loftfield.
On the stand for Bradley Brunon's cross examination, more than two years after the murder, Susan was facing the same kind of situation. Chie, who was not present for her mother's testimony, had once again put her mother in an impossible position.
Before he started, Brunon told Susan he had to ask tough questions. Scott was on trial for murder, and he needed to know certain things. Susan said okay. Then the lawyer asked about the pimping and prostitution and her daughter's honesty and trustworthiness -- the prosecution's case heavily relies on Chie's testimony.
"She was being generally untruthful with you, wasn't she?" Brunon asked towards the end of his cross examination.
Susan asked for him to better explain that question, Brunon pointed out various situations in which Chie wasn't honest with her, and they tugged back and forth, with Susan probably going through the same nightmare she went through with the Beverly Hills detectives.
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It was clear Susan didn't want to say anything bad about her daughter, but she also knew she had to tell the truth. Finally, Susan agreed with Brunon. Her daughter had been untruthful.
A few minutes later, Brunon ended his cross examination, and Susan Coggins walked out of the courtroom. When she passed Loftfield, the prosecutor could only say one thing, "Thank you." Susan nodded. She looked as if she couldn't do or say anything else. The mother looked, quite simply, devastated.
Her daughter, who had pleaded no contest to an assault with a deadly weapon charge under the theory aiding and abetting, will probably testify this week.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.