In a 64-minute opening statement, Eric Naposki's defense lawyer told an Orange County jury that "common sense" proves the former NFL player could not have gunned down a Newport Beach millionaire because evidence demonstrates "he was somewhere else" during the killing that rocked the ritzy oceanfront community.
"This word 'alibi' is thrown out so much, but I submit to you that it is a reasonable defense if it is established," said Angelo MacDonald, who--along with co-counsel Gary Pohlson--told jurors about an 8:52 p.m. phone call Naposki made from a Denny's restaurant in Tustin about 18 or 19 minutes before the December 1994 murder of William McLaughlin in his house near the Balboa Peninsula. "Mr. Naposki could have never gotten into that house and done the murder, not even if he were superhuman. Couldn't have happened . . . . He has a solid, reasonable, logical alibi. He simply could not have done it."
Prosecutor Matt Murphy, a ranking member of District Attorney's elite homicide unit, contends that Naposki did have time to make it to McLaughlin's home and fire six fatal nine millimeter, hollow-tip bullets in a conspiracy with his girlfriend at the time. Nanette Johnston, who will face a jury later this year, simultaneously dated the exceptionally wealthy McLaughlin, then 55 years old, and the dirt poor Naposki, 27. Unaware of her promiscuity, the businessman left Johnston, 29, more than $1 million in his will. Evidence shows that she was impatient. She plundered hundreds of thousands of dollars from McLaughlin's bank accounts before, during and after the murder.
But MacDonald told jurors that sloppy, lazy Newport Beach police detective work ignored critical exculpatory evidence to make Naposki, who played linebacker for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, a prime suspect.
"Eric Naposki told the police everything they needed to know [about his alibi shortly after the crime]," said MacDonald, himself a former Bronx, New York homicide prosecutor. "He gave the date and the time and the name of the person he talked to on the phone on the night of the murder. He even gave the police that man's telephone number."
MacDonald and Pohlson allege that police failed to investigate Naposki's alibi and then waited almost 14 years to arrest him seven years after the phone company destroyed records of the 8:52 p.m. call. Law enforcement had asked an unswayed Superior Court Judge William Froeberg to ban admission of evidence of the call because, in part, it was Naposki's 1995 lawyers who oddly lost the record. The current defense team has been close to irate that Newport Beach police detectives allowed the phone record to be destroyed before asking for it.
"Somebody dropped the ball here," said MacDonald. "Somebody dropped the ball big, and now Eric Naposki is on trial for murder."
(Later--after MacDonald finished his opening statement, Pohlson summoned a defense witness, onetime Naposki private investigator Jim Box, who testified that in 1995 he saw Naposki's phone bill containing the 8:52 p.m. call. Between the time of the 1994 crime and the 2009 arrest, that key record was lost. Given the prolonged time gap, the defense describes this fact as an unfair burden.)
Calling his client "a patsy," MacDonald argued to a rapt jury inside Judge Froeberg's Santa Ana courtroom that "you can't find someone guilty of murder based on innuendo" and he provided jurors the "most likely" identity of the killer: Johnston.
"The defense is going to prove that Nanette Johnston is an accomplished liar, thief, manipulator, con woman and promiscuous gold-digger," he said. "Combine those qualities with the fact that she's pretty good looking, is in great shape, is young and has the ability to literally charm the pants off men. She is the only person in the world with the motive, means and opportunity--and callousness!--to pull off this murder."
To underscore his claims, MacDonald displayed a crime scene photograph introduced earlier by Murphy. The image shows a cup with liquid and relatively neat stacks of papers on a dining room table and a nearby chair.
"This photograph really tells all about this case," said MacDonald. "It's what's not in it that's important. The papers [on the table] aren't askew. The cup wasn't knocked over. The chair isn't knocked over. Mr. McLaughlin got up from that chair to greet somebody he knew."
The defense claims that if McLaughlin--an ex-U.S. Marine who remained in excellent physical condition--hadn't known the person who walked into his house, he would have knocked things over in a rush to stand up and confront the intruder. The implication? Johnston's entry into the room would not have caused alarm.
Said MacDonald, "The reason the killer got close [within two feet, according to the coroner] was because the killer was someone he knew."
McLaughlin and Naposki never met. Indeed, the businessman didn't even know Naposki existed.
It's the defense theory that after killing McLaughlin, Johnston rushed to the Crate & Barrel at South Coast Plaza to establish an alibi with a receipt time stamped 9:29 p.m.--some 18 or 19 minutes after the murder. About 15 minutes later, she obtained another receipt for four items from a different mall store and then drove to McLaughlin's house, where she lived.
"That is classic trying to create an alibi," argued MacDonald.
In other words, Johnston framed Naposki--who, on the night of the murder, worked as head of security at a Newport Beach nightclub about 400 feet from the crime scene, according to the defense.
"There was a fatal mistake [in her plot]," said MacDonald. "She never counted on Eric Naposki getting that [phone page]."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Then the lawyer made a promise to the jury.
He said, "We are going to show that Nanette Johnston is the likely shooter and the killer of Mr. McLaughlin and that Mr. Naposki is not guilty of these charged crimes."
The trial--which has lured producers from CBS's 48 Hours and NBC's Dateline--begins its ninth day on July 5 after the holiday break.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly