Beverly Hills Murder Trial: Cocaine, Booze, Prostitution, and Unsteady Witness Chie Coggins-Johnson
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 Beverly Hills on Thursday, Chie Coggins-Johnson finally took the witness stand, sitting only feet away from her ex-boyfriend and testifying for the prosecution that Barker brutally murdered Tony Takazato.
So far, Coggins-Johnson, a key person for the prosecution's case, has been an unsteady witness.
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 Thursday, September 20, Coggins-Johnson mumbled and stumbled throughout her testimony, and repeatedly needed to refer to a 38-page document she had written for prosecutors in 2010 to refresh her memory. She often said she could not remember certain events.
Coggins-Johnson complained that she was sick, but the constant use of the document and her testimony that sometimes came across as disconnected and inarticulate seemed to frustrate Judge Elden S. Fox. He more than once instructed her to improve her performance one way or another.
The prosecutorial narrative for Coggins-Johnson started off All-American enough. Taking questions from Loftfield, she explained that she was a competitive rhythmic gymnast who once trained in Russia, she went with Tony Takazato to his senior prom, and she was raised by a devoted single mother, Susan Coggins.
From there, things got very, very dark.
At the age of 12 or 13, Coggins-Johnson testified, she started drinking alcohol. Soon after that, she smoked pot and snorted cocaine. "[Coke] got me feeling a little more energetic," she said, adding that it helped her to "fit in with social life at school."
By 17, Coggins-Johnson found herself in a drug rehab in Utah.
Yet rehab seemed to take -- at least for a few months after she returned to her hometown of Los Angeles.
Coggins-Johnson lived with her mother, got a retail job at a Century City mall, started taking college courses, her mother and father helped pay for a car, and she was dating.
Then Coggins-Johnson started using again -- and stopped going to work, stopped going to college, eventually lost the car, and ended up doing prostitution and pornography for Takazato, she said.
Coggins-Johnson didn't say that alcohol or drugs may have caused her downfall, but she also found herself without a home -- her mother asked her to leave since she was abusing substances again.
That appeared to be okay with Scott Barker, however.
The two met in May, 2010, at a party, where they smoked marijuana together, Coggins-Johnson said. She later told him about rehab, but he just wanted to keep partying.
According to Coggins-Johnson, they took ecstasy in Las Vegas, they "regularly" drank wine and liquor during the week, and Barker often snorted cocaine. Full of machismo, Coggins-Johnson said Barker once burned himself with a lit cigarette to prove that "he wasn't scared of anything."
In fact, before Coggins-Johnson's testimony, prosecutor Amy Carter played an audio tape of Coggins-Johnson and Barker talking in the back seat of a police car after they were both arrested on murder charges.
While Coggins-Johnson can be heard crying, Barker sounds upbeat and cocky. "It's fine," he told his girlfriend. "Nothing's going to happen."
Barker, who wanted to be an actor and screenwriter, also seems to think he's someone very special. When a police officer talks with them, Barker asks, "Is there any camera bullshit?"
The officer sounds perplexed, so Barker puts it another way: "Is there any camera crews?"
The officer is clearly amused that Barker seems to think a phalanx of TV news crews are lying in wait.
"For you guys? I don't think so."
Just before the murder on July 20, 2010, Barker planned to take Coggins-Johnson away from Los Angeles to move to Florida, where his family lived. By this point, Coggins-Johnson wasn't seeing too much of Takazato, especially after telling Barker and her mother about the pornography and prostitution.
Still, Coggins-Johnson couldn't help but reach out to a "client" who wanted a "massage." She asked Barker to drop her off at her mother's home and pick her up there later. In between that time, she would meet up with her client for "sexual services," Coggins-Johnson told the jury.
Her testimony ended on Thursday with her and Barker scaling the metal, spiked fence at Takazato's home. On Friday, Coggins-Johnson will explain how 21-year-old Tony Takazato ended up dead.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.