A father has been convicted of murdering his four-year-old daughter by tossing her off a cliff because he didn’t want to pay $1,000-a-month child support.
Cameron Brown, now 53, showed no emotion as the verdict was read out at Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday.
The mother of little Lauren Sarene Key – the child who was killed nearly 15 years ago at the Inspiration Point beauty spot in Palos Verdes, California – sobbed after finally winning justice in the long-running case.
Prosecutors say Brown killed the girl in November 2000 because he never wanted the child and was locked in a bitter dispute with her mother over child support and custody.
Lauren’s shattered body was found on a rocky nudist beach below the cliff.
Here’s what you need to know about the shocking case:
1. Two Previous Juries Have Deadlocked Over Whether Brown Was Guilty of Murder or Manslaughter
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 six for manslaughter.
“It’s been a long time. It’s been 15 years and finally we have justice for Lauren,’’ Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum told reporters on Wednesday. “In the other prior trials, no juror has ever voted not guilty. It was only a matter of degree, and it was obviously very good news for us that they all managed to agree on this verdict.’’
2. He Has Been Behind Bars Since Shortly After The November 2000 Tragedy
Brown, who has been in custody for 12 years ince his arrest in November, 2003, now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
In a statement, defense attorney Aron Laub said he “argued for a verdict of involuntary manslaughter because I sincerely believe that is what happened in this case. I have great confidence in our jury system, but I cannot agree that this was a just verdict.’’
Jury foreman Greg Apodaca said the panel, which on May 7 visited the Inspiration Point site where the girl plunged to her death, wanted to acknowledge those who had “invested several years in this case.’’
“We appreciate the evidence they provided for us to consider … and feel we have delivered justice,’’ he said. “Well, the experts made it pretty clear, and when we did the site visit, it was clear to us, as well. It didn’t seem likely that a 4-year-old girl would be up there of her own volition.’’
3. He Was Locked in a Custody and Child Support Dispute With The Child’s Mother at The Time
Lauren’s mother, Sarah Key-Marer, from the UK, was a key witness and wept as she described during an earlier hearing how a policewoman told her about Lauren’s death.
“We knew something really bad had happened,” she said.
“I remember hearing the words ‘cliff’ and ‘Lauren was dead’. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Key-Marer had met Brown in a bar in 1995 soon after she arrived in the U.S. from Britain.
The latest jury heard about six weeks of evidence before deliberating about whether the girl’s 120-foot fall was an accident or an act of murder.
Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said there was nothing innocent about the fall.
Hum told jurors that Brown’s statements were riddled with lies and painted a picture of a man who didn’t want a child with the girl’s mother and only had begun seeking custody as a means to trim monthly $1,000 child support payments.
4. He Wanted The Mother to Get an Abortion And Tried to Get Her Deported
Brown had wanted the girl’s mother to get an abortion and he tried to get her deported, Hum 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.
Key-Marer told reporters she was in shock and wanted to thank the jurors and the witnesses.
“All I ever wanted was that he would take responsibility for what happened that day, so I’m thankful for God for carrying me and my family and my friends through this time,’’ she said. “Lauren was our gift from God, the best thing that ever happened to us.’’
5. He Still Insists it Was an Accident
When asked about the sentencing date, Brown said, “Judge, I’m innocent, I have no comment.”
The airline baggage handler claims Lauren slipped and plunged over the sheer drop while throwing pebbles into the Pacific ocean.
Defense attorney Aron Laub told jurors that his client wasn’t a murderer, but he suggested they convict Brown of manslaughter.
“This father, who had this duty to hold her hand or hold her … didn’t do it,” the defense attorney said, according to City News Service. “Honestly, I have a hard time seeing a not guilty … I am looking for what is justice.”