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?”
On the last day of his trial, alleged murderer Scott Barker, a 25-year-old wannabe screenwriter and actor who carried himself in the world with a kind of macho confidence, couldn't stop himself from looking cocky, laughing at Los Angeles County prosecutor Linda Loftfield during her closing argument.
Within a matter of days, though, the prosecution team of Loftfield and Amy Carter may get the last laugh: Barker's first-degree murder trial has now gone to the jury for deliberation.
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 L.A. county prosecutors Amy Carter and Linda Loftfield, Scott Barker, who was 23 years old at the time, was enraged that Tony Takazato had pushed his girlfriend, then 20-year-old Chie Alexandra Coggins-Johnson, into prostitution and pornography. Takazato also was abusive toward Coggins-Johnson, the prosecution said.
Coggins-Johnson and Takazato once were romantically linked, but that turned into a “friendship,” the prosecutors said. She lived on and off with Takazato in Beverly Hills. In the early morning of July 20, 2010, 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.
Coggins-Johnson was initially at the scene and drove away. She and Barker later were charged with murder. Working closely with prosecutors, she pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon under the theory of aiding and abetting and promised to testify against Barker.
Bradley Brunon said in his opening statement that Johnson is a “pathological liar” and Barker did not commit the murder.
On Monday, October 1, after four weeks of eye-popping testimony in the Beverly Hills courtroom of Judge Elden S. Fox, the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments. Connecting all the dots, their summaries of the Tony Takazato murder will now be considered by a jury of nine men and three women who will decide whether or not Scott Barker will grow old and die in a California state prison.
L.A. County prosecutor Amy Carter started off closing arguments with a two-hour-and-fifteen-minute Powerpoint presentation that included picture slides, video, and an audio excerpt. By the end of it, even defense attorney Bradley Brunon told the jury that she gave an impressive performance.
“In the morning hours of July 20, 2010,” Carter first said to the jury in a commanding voice, “Scott Barker went to 1860 Carla Ridge to kill Tony Takazato.”
Instantly, the prosecutor appeared to grab the jury's attention — and never let go of it.
Dressed in a dark power suit with her hair rolled up in bun, Carter said that Barker “dressed up like a ninja,” armed himself with two large kitchen knives, and brought Chie Coggins-Johnson with him to Takazato's home to show his girlfriend how tough he was.
Tony Takazato “didn't have a chance,” Carter said.
After a violent struggle that resulted with Takazato getting fatally stabbed 58 times in his carport, the prosecutor said, suspect Barker fled in his black Volkswagen Jetta with Coggins-Johnson. Carter then pressed a button and showed a video of that car passing a Beverly Hills police cruiser, which was on route to the scene.
“At this moment,” Carter said, “Scott Barker is getting away with murder — for now.”
Barker, the prosecutor said, headed for Malibu, where he washed himself and his bloody clothes in the Pacific Ocean and subsequently stashed those items, two knives, and two car floor mats on a hillside off Malibu Canyon Road.
“He thought he had gotten away with murder,” Carter said. “He almost did.”
Takazato's housekeeper, though, saw the struggle and called the police.
A husband and wife were also walking by scene during their early morning exercise, heard screams, and saw a bare-chested young man climb over the pointy metal fence at Takazato's residence and jump into a car.
Beverly Hills Detective Chris Coulter remembered that police cruisers have video cameras, and, with the help of Detective Eric Hyon, spotted a black Volkswagen Jetta in the police video.
And crime scene investigator Tiffany Shew found a piece of torn fabric clutched in Takazato's lifeless hand, which would later be matched to a long-sleeve shirt found on the Malibu hillside.
Within a few hours on July 20, Beverly Hills police were calling Barker's cell phone, wanting Coggins-Johnson and him to drive over to headquarters for questioning.
When they arrived in the late evening of July 20, Carter told the jury, what the couple didn't know was that Hyon was hiding in the bushes, waiting to see what kind of car they drove. When the detective saw the Jetta, he could hardly contain his excitement, calling Beverly Hills Detective George Elwell, who was preparing to interview Coggins-Johnson, on his cell phone.
“You'll never guess what they pulled up in?!” Hyon said.
“A black Volkswagen Jetta,” Elwell replied.
As Carter recounted these things, Barker sat feet away at a large horseshoe table and stared blankly without expression.
His attorney, Bradley Brunon, sat next to him and scribbled notes.
Barker's parents, who live in Florida and have attended every day of the trial, gave away no hint of emotion. His mother sat in the front row of the gallery behind her son and continued her daily routine of taking voluminous notes in a small notebook.
Loftfield, sitting behind Carter, looked straight at the jury, several of whom were taking their own notes.
Carter then worked through the DNA evidence, which showed that Barker's DNA was found on the black ski cap and black gloves that were recovered in Malibu, where Coggins-Johnson took police to get the items.
The prosecutor pointed out the murder weapon and a pair of silver Nikes were also recovered at the scene, with the running sneakers' soles matching the bloody shoe prints found at Takazato's carport.
Carter brought up the fact that cell phone records showed that a bill collection agency called Barker's phone at 5:49 a.m., which was around the same time Takazato was struggling for his life, perhaps even dead at that point.
Barker didn't answer, but his cell phone “pinged” off a cell phone tower on top of the Beverly Hills Police Department, indicating that the phone, if not Barker himself, was inside Beverly Hills city limits at the time of the call.
The collection agency made another call a little more than two hours later. Again, Barker didn't pick up. But this time his phone pinged off a cell tower in Malibu, near the location where the clothes and two knives were found.
Carter then addressed the fact that the prosecution's key witness, Chie Coggins-Johnson, struggled during her testimony, often forgetting previous testimony she had given. Still, the prosecutor said, the physical evidence was “overwhelming.”
“The bottom line is that [Coggins-Johnson's performance] doesn't get the defendant off the hook,” said Carter.
During her rebuttal, prosecutor Loftfield added that Coggins-Johnson had a fear of speaking in public, and the 22-year-old witness just couldn't rise up to the occasion. “That's what you saw here,” Loftfield told the jury.
Carter continued to charge ahead, saying Barker committed the murder so he “could also re-establish his control and possession over Chie” and “reassert his manhood.”
A few hours before the murder at a BBQ party, Coggins-Johnson told Barker she was having second thoughts about going to Florida with him. Prosecutors theorized that Barker quickly calculated that Coggins-Johnson would go back to ex-boyfriend Takazato and live with him. That was too much for Barker to bear, the prosecutors argued.
Carter conceded that Takazato, who, according to Coggins-Johnson, pressured her into prostitution and pornography and sometimes hit her, was at a “low point in his life” and “not on the right path.” But, the prosecutor said, “All human lives are precious,” and Barker took away Takazato's future and a chance to redeem himself.
“What you're doing here is important,” Carter told the jury. “It matters…Only you have the power to do justice in this case.”
Judge Elden S. Fox called for a lunch recess, and an hour later defense attorney Bradley Brunon took the podium. Dressed in a dark suit with a red-and-blue tie, and without the use of a Powerpoint presentation, the gray-haired Brunon quickly set about putting question marks on the prosecution's case.
Brunon suggested that Takazato led a problematic life that created enemies, the kind of enemies that could possibly want him dead.
“He was dealing dope,” Brunon said, “he was gambling, he was stealing from the woman who raised him, he was hitting Chie…It doesn't give the right to someone to kill him, but he had lots of enemies.”
Brunon added, “Dope dealers don't commission debt to collection agencies. They take harsh action.”
But, the defense attorney said, Beverly Hills police so quickly decided that Barker was the killer that they didn't look at anyone else.
Brunon particularly took up the argument that Takazato's housekeeper heard him yelling “Stop, Eddie, Stop!” at the time of the deadly fight. Brunon said that one of Coggins-Johnson's Facebook friends is named Eddie, and he appeared to fit the description an eyewitness had given to police about the person who had jumped over Takazato's fence shortly after the murder.
The prosecutors and Beverly Hills police “don't tell you how they eliminated him,” said Brunon, referring to Eddie as a possible suspect. The attorney also pointed out that Coggins-Johnson lied to police about not knowing an Eddie.
“Is she credible?” Brunon asked the jury about Coggins-Johnson. “Would you take action based on her word? I don't think so.” He added, “She's a longtime drug addict…They are not reliable people.”
Brunon went so far as to say that Coggins-Johnson had the stronger motive to see Takazato dead than Barker did.
Brunon also questioned the strength of the prosecution's DNA testing and that fact that Barker, who Coggins-Johnson said twice walked up and down a Malibu hillside to stash his items, did not have abrasions or cuts on his feet — whoever put the clothes, knives, and floor mats down the ravine also left his Nike sneakers with those things.
“The evidence does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Scott Barker was the perpetrator,” said Brunon. “Tony Takazato told you who killed him. 'Stop, Eddie, Stop!'”
During her rebuttal, prosecutor Loftfield addressed that point, saying Takazato's housekeeper later changed her testimony about what she heard. The prosecutor suggested that what Takazato actually said was “Stop already, Stop!”
At that point, Barker broke out laughing, apparently in disbelief. He looked over at Brunon, but the defense attorney wasn't smiling. The prosecution was pulling off a solid closing argument presentation. It was no time to look cocky.
After receiving the judge's instructions on Monday afternoon, the 12-member jury will start deliberating today at the Beverly Hills Courthouse.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.