You've probably never heard of Kevin Ross Johnston, but this guy should be a witness in every murder trial.
Not because Johnston--a tall, natty, silver-bearded fellow with a quick, hearty laugh--has any known criminal expertise. Well, sure, there are those speeding tickets and a seat belt violation, and alarmingly this: He spent five years married to Nanette Johnston, now an accused devious, cold-blooded killer who is the mother of two of his children.
Don't worry. There's no Dean Koontz action here. Mr. Johnston looks happy, scar-less and very much alive. Indeed, invite him to a gathering and he'll be the life of the party. His upbeat, lively demeanor clearly impresses jurors.
Nanette, who went on to marry several other men, will face a jury later this year. Eric Naposki, her alleged co-conspirator and a former NFL player, is on trial now for the hit-like 1994 murder of Newport Beach millionaire William McLaughlin.
Read this slowly: At the time of the crime, Naposki--who, based on evidence, seems incapable of downplaying his own professed virility--was dating the female Johnston, while she also dated her live-in partner, McLaughlin, as well as a lengthy list of other men.
Today, the male Johnston became the 18th witness in the case and provided much needed relief from a mounting, bitter battle between Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy and Naposki defense attorney Angelo G. MacDonald.
Before jurors were allowed to enter the courtroom this morning, Murphy told Judge William Froeberg that MacDonald had spent Monday improperly prefacing questions to a key witness with ridiculous assertions that implied McLaughlin was killed because of his involvement in an as yet proven illegal gun running operation between Las Vegas and Orange County. Or, alternatively, that the real shooter was Nanette.
An uncharacteristically stern-faced Murphy described MacDonald's tactic as "blurting out" false information to misled jurors that he was keeping important facts from them.
Except for fellow, veteran OC homicide prosecutor Cameron Talley--who could charm a loaded AK-47 out of the hands of a trigger-happy Mexican Mafia thug high on PCP, Murphy is the most relaxed prosecutor in the county. Day after day, he's easy going, polite and generous--even to his courtroom opponents. But that sweet exterior masks an intense work ethic and competitive nature that doesn't cave when he sees what he believes are strong-arm tactics by defense lawyers.
All day, Murphy and MacDonald, a former Bronx homicide prosecutor in New York who has appeared as a guest legal commentator on MSNBC and Court TV, sparred. MacDonald, hired because of his own courtroom accomplishments and ties to a Naposki childhood pal, has a more combative style. In March, he blocked a New York jury from convicting his client, a cop, who was playing with his gun while off duty and killed a friend.
MacDonald's pet peeve? When a witness lies to him or doesn't give him a direct answer to a direct question. In the Naposki case, prosecution witnesses, especially in law enforcement, have repeatedly peeved him. If he's gotten excited while cross examining witnesses, he says it's because misinformation is "framing" his client for a crime he didn't commit.
Along with defense partner Gary Pohlson, MacDonald managed to win what they considered a major victory today. Timing--to the minute--is critical in the case. Their efforts allowed the jury to hear that the victim's disabled son, Kevin, told police it took him three minutes to reach his slain father and call 911. Murphy and his trusty detective, Larry Montgomery, believe the more accurate time is about two minute less, which concurs with the government's tight timeline for Naposki's moves on the night of the murder.
Anyhow, after Murphy and MacDonald spent most of the day interrupting each other with objections and quips, Kevin Ross Johnston took the witness stand late in the afternoon.
Oh, what a refreshing turn of events. Based on his answers to questions, this is a man who genuinely sees the proverbial glass half full. (I need to ask him if he taught his optimism to mega-positive thinker Tony Robbins.)
But first, Johnston's factual input into the case: On the night of the killing, he'd seen his ex-wife and Naposki together at a youth soccer match and remembered the exact time the pair left the pre-murder event, 8:20 p.m.--50 minutes before McLaughlin's murder. That memory fits Murphy's theory of the case and discredits Naposki's statements to police. He added that his ex-wife called him after the murder and told him not to mention to detectives that she'd spent the hours before the murder with Naposki.
There were also tidbits in his testimony for the defense. Johnston hailed Naposki as a "great" guy who enjoyed being around kids. He even hailed his ex-wife as "incredibly smart . . . incredibly intelligent," which was, at least momentarily, a sharp departure from her consistent depiction as a promiscuous, lying, gold digger.
Well, Johnston did tell a funny story that reinforced that slutty image. He said he remembers being at a soccer match for his son with Naposki when Nanette arrived with yet another boyfriend.
"She came with one and left with Eric," he testified without a hint of jealousy or anger.
Laughter erupted in the courtroom.
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In fact, Johnston was so funny with some of his answers that Pohlson said tongue in cheek at one point, "Hey, I'm the comedian here!"
Despite the levity, Vegas odds aren't on Naposki laughing when this case is over. Murphy, an 18-year veteran, has an impeccable record. He has never lost a murder case.
The trial continues tomorrow when the prosecution is expected to end its presentation. One of the final witnesses should be the coroner. On Thursday, MacDonald is scheduled to give an opening statement and then begin calling defense witnesses.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly