Beverly Hills Murder Trial: Former Best Friend Marion Bronowicki Says Key Witness Chie Coggins-Johnson Lied Compulsively
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 Tuesday, Marion Bronowicki, the former best friend of key witness Chie Coggins-Johnson, took the stand, describing a troubled young woman who is caring and loving but also prone to lying and abusing drugs.
"Did [Coggins-Johnson] lie compulsively?" defense attorney Bradley Brunon asked Bronowicki, a blonde 20-something.
"Yes," she replied.
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 Tuesday, Sept. 25, Marion Bronowicki, who was Coggins-Johnson's best friend for 18 years, was called as a witness for the defense. Wearing an all-black outfit, Bronowicki presented a complex portrait of Coggins-Johnson.
Coggins-Johnson had fallen out of Bronowicki's favor when Bronowicki attempted to sue Coggins-Johnson's boyfriend for running over her foot with a car in 2009. Bronowicki, who suffered an injury and was looking to sue, asked her best friend to talk with her lawyer. Coggins-Johnson refused.
"She betrayed me," Bronowicki told the jury, "and I was very angry."
She added, "Usually, she's always there [for you], but when there's a male figure around, she'd lean toward the male figure."
In previous testimony, Coggins-Johnson said she was placed in an "uncomfortable" position by Bronowicki to testify against her boyfriend. The women have yet to patch things up.
When Beverly Hills police called Bronowicki in July 2010 after Tony Takazato was murdered, she told an investigator that Coggins-Johnson was a "pathological liar."
Bronowicki backed away from that bold statement during her testimony, saying she was "very angry" with Coggins-Johnson at that time. But the witness did say that she saw Coggins-Johnson "lie in the past" and on "many occasions." Bronowicki also said that her former best friend "always had a drug problem."
According to Bronowicki, the relationship between murder victim Takazato and Coggins-Johnson was stormy, to say the least.
"There were always fights," Bronowicki told the jury. "There were always disagreements."
Brunon asked if those fights got physical.
Bronowicki replied: "She'd always complained to me that he was hitting her. ... I believe he was mentally and physically abusing her." She added that Takazato "was always calling [Coggins-Johnson]... he wouldn't let her go to places he couldn't be."
In the fall of 2009, according to Bronowicki, Takazato came over to Coggins-Johnson's mother's home on the Westside. The witness, who was present at the time, said Takazato was yelling at both women and trying desperately to get into the house. Susan Coggins, Chie's mother, was away on a trip to Argentina.
"It was very scary," said Bronowicki, "and after a few hours, we realized he wasn't going to leave."
The women called the police, but Coggins-Johnson refused to press charges when they arrived.
At another point, Bronowicki said she was visting Takazato at his Trousdale Estates home with Coggins-Johnson. Bronowicki suddenly heard her best friend screaming. She went into the kitchen and saw Coggins-Johnson holding a large kitchen knife.
Takazato then yelled at Bronowicki to leave. She did, and Coggins-Johnson followed. "We never spoke about that incident again," Bronowicki told the jury.
During Coggins-Johnson's testimony, when attorney Brunon asked her about that confrontation, Coggins-Johnson said she couldn't remember that happening. She also once described Bronowicki as being "dramatic."
During L.A. County prosecutor Linda Loftfield's cross examination, Bronowicki also offered up a warmer, less dark side of Coggins-Johnson.
"She's a really caring, nurturing person," Bronowicki told the jury. "At the same time, she's very weak." The witness was referring to Coggins-Johnson's willingness to be treated poorly by men.
Bronowicki added, "I can't imagine her trying to hurt someone. She couldn't even kill a spider."
Bronowicki described Coggins-Johnson as "very quiet" and a "mother figure" who gave her "moral support."
During Coggins-Johnson's relationship with Takazato, Bronowicki said she told her best friend to be stronger. "She never took a stand for herself," Bronowicki said.
She added, "She wouldn't do anything. ... She would allow herself to get hit."
Bronowicki was perplexed by the relationship.
"I thought maybe she really loved him, and that's why she stuck around."
But after several months of fighting, Bronowicki couldn't figure out why Coggins-Johnson didn't leave Takazato. "I never understood why," she said.
Coggins-Johnson previously testified that she believed Takazato, whose mother died when he was 3 and whose father was rarely home, needed a friend. Also, they drank and used drugs together, according to Coggins-Johnson, and she couldn't live at her mother's home, so she stayed with Takazato.
Just before the July 20, 2010, murder, Coggins-Johnson reached out to Bronowicki through a friend, hoping to fix their friendship before Coggins-Johnson left for Florida with Scott Barker. Bronowicki refused to talk with her, and left for a trip to Poland.
"I came back from Poland and heard the bad news," Bronowicki said.
Coggins-Johnson and Scott Barker had been charged for the murder of Tony Takazato.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.