Eric Naposki, a onetime star professional football player, couldn't hide his contempt this afternoon during the prosecution's opening statement that ended with a confident prediction that jurors will hold him "accountable" for the 1994 ambush killing of Bill McLaughlin, a 55-year-old wealthy Newport Beach inventor and businessman.
A bald, husky Naposki, who barely fit into his undersized, pale blue button down shirt and played for the NFL's New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts as a linebacker, shook his head, snorted, smiled, laughed and added inaudible commentary while Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy addressed the jury.
At one point, Murphy, one of the most acclaimed homicide prosecutors in Southern California, stopped his presentation to alert jurors to Naposki's show at the defense table, mocked the defendant and then resumed giving his opening statement.
"You're going to hold this guy accountable," Murphy told jurors.
In May 2009, almost 15 years after the killing, police used newly obtained evidence to arrest Naposki and his onetime girlfriend, Nanette Packard, who was living with McLaughlin, the victim, at the time of the killing. Orange County's best cold case sleuth, DA Investigator Larry Montgomery, located original witnesses who'd been reluctant to come forward in the early days of the case with incriminating information. One of Montgomery's new witnesses said that Naposki repeatedly tied himself to the killing and may have threatened her to keep her silent.
According to Newport Beach police, Naposki and Packard plotted to steal McLaughlin's substantial fortune. Both defendants claim they are not guilty and say that exculpatory evidence proving their alibis was lost between the killing and the arrests. Packard will be tried separately later.
Defense lawyers Gary Pohlson and Angelo G. MacDonald, both legal heavyweights themselves, don't look the least intimidated but they decided to forgo making an opening statement today. That move left Murphy the opportunity to deliver a potent, jaw-dropping 23-point review of key circumstantial evidence.
"There were seven people with keys to [McLaughlin's] home," said the prosecutor, referring to the fact that the killer used a key to enter the murder scene. "Four of them had something to gain, but just one of them was cheating on him and stealing from him."
Naposki glared at Murphy, who continued, "The killer wanted to kill Bill. Naposki said he wanted to kill Bill. The killer planned a murder. Naposki had a silencer made for a 9mm gun. The killer knew how to shoot. Naposki knew how to shoot. The killer used a Beretta F-series 9mm. Naposki owned a Beretta F-series 9mm."
Naposki shook his head slowly.
"The killer used Federal Hydra-Shok ammunition," Murphy continued. "Naposki used Federal Hydra-Shok ammo. When the killer was traveling toward the murder scene, Naposki was traveling toward the murder scene."
Naposki, who worked as a nightclub bouncer about a football field away from McLaughlin's front door on the night of the murder, scribbled something on a notepad.
"Naposki was not buying cars, and Bill [the victim] was not selling his car, but Naposki had Bill's license plate number written in his notebook. Naposki lied about his relationship with Nanette. Naposki lied about where he was during the murder. Naposki lied about owning a Beretta 9mm."
Murphy then stressed this point that drove several jurors to scribble in their notebooks: "He was lying about not having a 9mm when nobody but the police and the killer knew that the murder weapon was a 9mm."
During the initial investigation Newport Beach police detective Craig Frizzell confronted Naposki about why he lied during his first interview about owning a Beretta 9mm. The suspect replied, "I misled you, big deal." Frizzell wiped the smugness off of Naposki's face when he told him, "You don't have an alibi," according to Murphy.
Newport Beach is hardly a homicide mecca. The killing rocked the wealthy beachfront community that saw the victim as a lovable, smart and generous man. At least, his death was not prolonged.
While McLaughlin made a sandwich in the kitchen of the Balboa Cove house at about 9:10 p.m. on December 15, 1994, the killer entered, fired six shots into his torso with hollow tip 9mm bullets meant to cause as much destruction as possible and then fled before police, who were nearby, arrived.
Murphy showed only a few crime scene photographs of a robe-wearing McLaughlin lying on the floor dead and no gory autopsy pictures.
"This whole case is not about shock," he told jurors. "It's about facts."
The prosecutor also noted that even though Packard and Naposki had zero assets, they shopped for a $1 million Irvine home together in the weeks before McLaughlin's death. Unaware of her serial cheating, the businessman had left Packard just over $1 million in his will.
"Bill was very kind to her and her two kids (from her previous marriage)," said Murphy. "He trusted her. He loved her."
According to the prosecutor, Naposki and Packard went on several shopping sprees with McLaughlin's money shortly after the murder. He also said that she called Naposki after police left the crime scene and she asked a witness not to tell inquiring detectives that she spent the hours before the killing with the ex-NFL player.
The first and only witness called today was McLaughlin's adult daughter, Kim. She testified about how wonderfully affectionate her father had been to his family and that he "loved challenges and learning new things." She also said that she suspected there was something wrong with Packard, who seemed cold and unintelligent when she dated her father.
Packard, who had no known marketable job skills, won a relationship with the wealthy, divorced businessman after writing a singles ad that promised to take care of a man's needs if he took care of her.
Records show that Packard stole more than $600,000 from McLaughlin's bank accounts before and after the killing, and a portion of those funds were used to pay for gifts to Naposki, who was desperate for money at the time. In his first interview with police, Naposki denied he'd been dating Packard.
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The biggest buzz generated today didn't happen during open court. Multiple court watchers think that Naposki will do what criminal defendants facing murder convictions rarely do: take the stand in his own defense. Given his animosity for Murphy, that showdown could be a courthouse classic.
With Judge William Froeberg presiding, testimony resumes tomorrow in Orange County's Central Courthouse in Santa Ana. The trial is expected to last at least three weeks. A team from Dateline NBC filmed Murphy's opening statement and a CBS 48 Hours Mystery producer attended.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly