Beverly Hills Murder Trial: Defense Attorney Bradley Brunon and Key Witness Chie Coggins-Johnson Spar Over the Truth
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 Beverly Hills murder trial on Monday, defense attorney Bradley Brunon wanted to make one, overriding point to the 12-member jury: The prosecution's key witness, former rhythmic gymnast-turned-prostitute Chie Coggins-Johnson, could not be trusted.
L.A. County prosecutor Linda Loftfield was clearly perturbed by the tactic, aggressively objecting throughout Brunon's cross examination.
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 was also abusive toward Coggins-Johnson, the prosecution said.
Coggins-Johnson and Takazato were once 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. Working closely with prosecutors, she later pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon under the theory of aiding and abetting.
Bradley Brunon said in his opening statement that Johnson is a "pathological liar" and Barker did not commit the murder.
On Monday, September 24, Brunon wasted no time in questioning Coggins-Johnson's ability to tell the truth.
"Your lies got you put out of your own home, isn't that right?" asked Brunon, referring to the fact that Coggins-Johnson's mother, Susan Coggins, asked her daughter to leave after she was not following the rules of the house.
"I made mistakes," Coggins-Johnson replied.
And on it went from there.
Brunon brought up the fact that Coggins-Johnson had been arrested several months ago, after making a deal with prosecutors, for using a Metro pass that wasn't hers. For several minutes, Brunon and Coggins-Johnson sparred over whether or not that was a "truthful" act.
"I wasn't trying to be untruthful," Coggins-Johnson said.
At another point, Brunon asked if Tony Takazato, who Coggins-Johnson has said gambled and owed people money, stole money from his housekeeper.
"He was having finance problems," Coggins-Johnson said, "and needed the assistance."
Brunon quickly countered, "So it's okay to steal?"
"No," Coggins-Johnson replied.
Brunon also went after her character, bringing up the fact that she prostituted and appeared in pornography. Coggins-Johnson has maintained that he "pressured" her to do both things as part of their living arrangement. Brunon, though, questioned if that was truly the case.
"You continued to do the prostitution even when you were staying with Scott, right?" the lawyer asked.
"Yes," Coggins-Johnson replied.
Prosecutor Loftfield angrily objected to many of Brunon's questions. At one point, Judge Elden S. Fox politely asked the prosecutor to tone down her vehemence.
Throughout the cross-examination, Coggins-Johnson often replied to Brunon's questions by not answering directly or by saying she didn't remember certain events or by saying she was too traumatized or scared to act and think certain ways -- for example, not telling Tony that Barker had a knife when they talked just before the murder.
Brunon got frustrated at one point.
"That's your fall back when you don't have an answer to a question," the lawyer said to Coggins-Johnson. "That you're traumatized, right?"
She didn't reply.
During the re-direct, prosecutor Loftfield made the point that Coggins-Johnson had never been arrested until the day of the murder, and that she didn't lie to the police officer who checked her Metro pass.
By 3 p.m. on Monday, Coggins-Johnson's testimony, which was unsteady at times and will be a major factor in whether or not Scott Barker will be found guilty of first-degree murder, was finally finished.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.