To divert juror attention away from their client as a cold-blooded murderer, Eric Naposki's defense team today summoned a witness who testified that he saw Naposki's alleged co-conspirator, Nanette Johnston, practice shooting firearms in the months before the Dec. 15, 1994, killing of a wealthy Newport Beach businessman.
Leonard Jomsky told jurors that he recalls visiting a firing range in either Costa Mesa or Huntington Beach in the "summer of 1994" with Naposki--a former NFL linebacker, Johnston and another man. The old Naposki roommate also said the group used a .380 handgun and another weapon like the one used in the murder, a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun.
"Her [shooting] was a little better [than mine], Jomsky testified. "She made a point of noting that [and] she mentioned that someone else had taught her how to shoot a gun."
Defense lawyers Gary Pohlson and Angelo MacDonald will likely push the point in next week's closing arguments because it fits perfectly into their overarching defense theme: A dastardly Johnston gunned down William McLaughlin, her live-in boyfriend, and left her other boyfriend, an oblivious and financially struggling Naposki, to be her "patsy" in a plot to steal McLaughlin's fortune.
Until Jomsky's arrival in Judge William Froeberg's courtroom, prosecutor Matt Murphy had repeatedly introduced evidence of Naposki's ownership of three handguns--including one, a Beretta 92F. McLaughlin's killer used a Beretta 92F. After the killing but before the public learned the identity of the weapon, Naposki first lied to Newport Beach homicide detective Thomas Voth about owning a Beretta 92F and later claimed that it had been mysteriously stolen prior to the murder.
To underscore that it wasn't just Naposki who knew how to fire a gun, MacDonald asked Jomsky if he actually saw Johnston firing the guns. The witness said he fired the weapons into paper targets with her for "about an hour."
Both Naposki and Johnston, who long ago split up, were arrested for the McLaughlin murder in 2009 after Orange County super-sleuth Larry Montgomery, a cold-case investigator in the District Attorney's office, located new witnesses, including one who said that in the weeks before the killing Naposki brazenly told her he wanted McLaughlin dead and then mocked his death after the crime.
Johnston, who was convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from McLaughlin before and after the murder, is scheduled to face her own jury later this year. She has no alibi for the exact time of the murder, but showed cops a South Coast Plaza Crate & Barrel receipt time stamped about 19 minutes after the shooting. Prosecutor Murphy believes the evidence proves that Johnston and Naposki conspired together against McLaughlin, who was unaware that his girlfriend was cheating on him. For example, the couple--which had combined assets of almost zero--shopped for houses worth nearly $1 million in Irvine and told a realtor they would buy after receiving a future financial windfall.
McLaughlin, 55, left Johnston, 29, more than $1,150,000 in his will.
With Jomsky as his final witness, Pohlson said this afternoon, "The defense rests."
Murphy wasn't finished, however.
He called Joseph Adam Stoltman, Jr., an Orange County-based private investigator as well as a firearms and combat expert, who testified that "three or four months" before the McLaughlin murder he trained Naposki on the "double tap" shooting technique. A McLaughlin neighbor claimed she heard gun shots in groups of two interspersed with brief pauses.
A half-serious Pohlson--arguably Southern California's funniest lawyer (no disrespect to his substantial legal prowess)--asked, "So you pause to admire your art work?"
Stoltman--who has trained police SWAT units and has a business motto of "No Excuses. No Whining. No Complaining. We get the job done"--smiled.
The gun expert also explained that a common feature of the "double tap" technique is to fire your shots "in the low chest area or at the stomach level" of your target.
The killer fired five of six copper-jacketed, hollow tip 9 mm bullets into McLaughlin's torso--mostly in a tight circle underneath his nipples.
"The stomach [shot] is a very lethal shot," said Stoltman.
At the end of the day, Judge Froeberg told jurors that they will likely begin deliberations on Tuesday after each side offers closing statements on Monday.
The intense rivalry between Murphy and MacDonald continued today, but wasn't as bitter as previous days.
MacDonald, a former Bronx, NY prosecutor, joked with reporters during a break in testimony that he's bringing out the "New York prosecutor" in the normally mild mannered Murphy, who has not been shy about protesting what he sees as his opponent's excessively aggressive courtroom tactics.
One huge disappointment for the collective media representatives--including two accomplished true crime book writers (***Caitlin Rother and Stella Sands) and teams from CBS's 48 Hours and NBC's Dateline--covering the trial: the defense feels comfortable enough with the evidence portion of the trial that they decided not to put the colorful Naposki on the witness stand.
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(UPDATE: ***Rother, who skipped several days of trial testimony, said she did not want Naposki to testify--something every other journalist wished--because it would have meant she'd have to spend more days traveling to the OC trial from San Diego. I hope she put more work into Dead Reckoning, her book about Skylar Deleon's murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks.)
A Naposki-Murphy (the men clearly aren't buddies) showdown would have likely produced legendary courtroom fireworks.
Naposki has spent a portion of the trial openly mocking the prosecutor who has never lost a homicide case.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly