It took four days of trial, but a witness finally made positive comments about accused killer Eric Naposki, the former professional football player, who is charged with gunning down a Newport Beach businessman in a 1994 plot to steal part of the man's estimate $15 million to $40 million fortune.
You might have guessed something odd was underway when Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy called Gary Rorden, the twelfth witness, and he entered the courtroom but attempted to plop down in the public seating section.
Once he made it to the witness chair, Rorden--a Costa Mesa businessman--testified that in the months prior to the killing of William McLaughlin, he'd repeatedly observed Naposki in the company of the future homicide victim's live-in girlfriend, Nanette Johnston, who was at the time stealing money from McLaughlin.
Rorden recalled that he'd seen Naposki and Johnston together on 10 occasions and that the pair made no secret that they were romantically involved.
"In my mind, it was clear something was going on," Rorden said. "And they weren't trying to hide it. They weren't hugging and smooching in front of me. But they were very close."
Rorden, who has been a member of a local Christian businessman's support group, testified that the situation was "awkward" because he knew McLaughlin from church in Newport Beach, but decided not to say anything to him about his girlfriend's cheating.
Why remain silent?
He called Naposki--who Murphy believes fired six hollow-tip bullets into McLaughlin while he made a sandwich in his kitchen just after 9 p.m. on Dec. 15, 1994--"a very nice gentleman."
Under cross examination by Naposki defense lawyer Gary Pohlson, Rorden said he thought of Naposki "very favorably" and volunteered, "I was probably closer to Eric than Bill."
He added without prodding, "I didn't ever like Bill McLaughlin."
The testimony put a smile on Naposki's face and he nodded affirmatively. Until then, the ex-New England Patriot, had endured the introduction of dozens and dozens of less than flattering assertions about his character. I've lost count of the number of time he's been portrayed as a greedy, obnoxious ass with few redeeming traits.
(Johnston's reputation has probably taken the most brutal blows so far in the trial, a situation that Mick Hill, her public defender, will have to tackle when she faces a jury later this year.)
But Rorden's endorsement of the accused shooter's character didn't sit well with Murphy. The witness had reportedly never expressed any pro-Naposki bias to police before today's hearing. The prosecutor asked the witness if he really thought Naposki was nice.
"Yes," Rorden replied.
Referencing alleged incidents when Naposki became violent when he didn't get his way, Murphy then asked the witness if he knew anything about the defendant's temper.
Rorden admitted that he didn't.
Before the witness was excused, Superior Court Judge William Froeberg asked him what had caused him to be in "awe" about the Johnston-Naposki affair.
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"Her showing up [at public events] with another man," he said. "[I] knew the McLaughlin family, so it was awkward."
Defense lawyers Pohlson and Angelo MacDonald are expected to present exculpatory evidence beginning on Wednesday after Murphy concludes the main portion of his case.
My last observation of the day: Naposki's newest girlfriend has been attending the trial, looking quite concerned about what's at stake and not breaking in her support despite what has to be occasional, alarming testimony. You would think he'd show appreciation for her attendance. But when bailiffs handcuffed him to take him back to jail for the night, he didn't even have the courtesy to turn around an nod good-bye.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly