In his best chance so far to dominate Judge William Froeberg's Santa Ana courtroom on behalf of murder defendant Eric Naposki, New York-based defense lawyer Angelo MacDonald spent nearly five hours today working diligently to undermine the prosecution.
At times, MacDonald's cross examination of the lead Newport Beach police detective in the 1994 murder of a local millionaire seemed painfully tedious, but those periods were punctuated with the oral equivalents of espresso triple shots.
MacDonald's most sensational work involved diverting attention from his client to other suspects.
He muddied the victim, William McLaughlin, by implying that he was involved in an illegal weapons transportation ring operating between Las Vegas and Orange County's John Wayne Airport. McLaughlin, a wildly successful inventor, church member and loved parent, owned a plane and a huge cache of weapons, some of them illegal. The defense lawyer's questions suggested that someone from that alleged underworld endeavor might be the murderer.
MacDonald also supplied a second potential shooter: Naposki's girlfriend at the time of the murder, Nanette Johnston. Thanks to the victim's will, Johnston became an instant millionaire the moment six bullets gunned down him down. The wealthy businessman had no idea that Johnston, his fiancee, was cheating on him with Naposki, a former NFL player.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy believes that Naposki and Johnston conspired together in the crime. Johnston will face her own jury later this year. (She's already been punished for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from McLaughlin before, during and after the murder date.) Law enforcement officials think circumstantial evidence points solidly to Naposki as the shooter.
But MacDonald reminded jurors that Johnston's alibi was a South Coast Plaza Crate & Barrel receipt time stamped at 9:29 p.m on the night of the murder. The killing occurred 19 minutes earlier near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Newport Boulevard. The time it takes to get from the murder scene to the store? Possibly as little as 11 minutes.
MacDonald also repeatedly tried to embarrassed Detective Thomas Voth, now retired, with what he portrayed as sloppy police work that failed to pursue obvious leads. "No, sir," Voth repeatedly replied to questions concerning whether Newport Beach police detectives performed elementary searches that could have fingered Johnston as the killer and given Naposki an alibi.
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At one point, the defense lawyer started identifying all the potential suspects rather than Naposki. The list included Johnston, McLaughlin's adult son, "mysterious gun characters and a disgruntled ex-business partner." MacDonald might have continued but Murphy objected to the grandstanding and Froeberg ordered him done.
"Did you test the drain of the woman's bathroom at Crate & Barrel for gunshot residue?" MacDonald asked Voth. "No," the detective replied. Police tested Johnston's hands for gunshot residue on the night of the murder but only after she'd returned to the crime scene from shopping. Apparently, it's possible to wash off the residue.
The prosecution could wrap up its case tomorrow or Wednesday. The defense then gets its shot to present its own evidence. The biggest remaining trial question: Will Naposki, who seemed in a relatively good, relaxed mood all day, testify?
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly