I wish I could have yesterday back in the case of the People of California versus Eric Naposki, and not just because of mid-morning indigestion from a rubbery courthouse cafeteria blueberry muffin.
On Monday, the trial's opening day, Naposki--a former NFL linebacker--appeared aggressively smug. He tried to act as if the courtroom stage belonged to him. He even shot his nemesis, Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, deadly glares.
But Naposki, who'd fallen from sports celebrity into shameful obscurity, terrible debt and life as a loud mouth Orange County night club bouncer, decided to become relatively tame on Tuesday.
That left an opening for another character to shine.
During an aerial photographic inspection of the crime scene, an ultra-expensive piece of property in coastal Newport Beach, Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg quipped that the next door neighbor to the wealthy murder victim, Bill McLaughlin, was a member of the clergy.
"A priest can afford that house?" the judge asked, prompting hearty laughter throughout the courtroom.
If the famously dour Froeberg, who has mastered the expression of a grave digger, could be funny, I thought fate might smile on me. At the trial's lunch break, I drove rapidly to a 7-Eleven and bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket. Once I'd secured my chance, I knew immediately that Froeberg's curse would block my victory.
Despite these dark under currents, homicide prosecutor Matt Murphy, undeniably one of Orange County's best public servants, managed to methodically build his case that Naposki and his onetime girlfriend, Nanette Packard, conspired to murder McLaughlin in December 1994.
Jurors heard testimony that Packard and Naposki, both brazenly deceitful, spent months planning how to spend McLaughlin's fortune after his early death, according to Murphy.
For example, though both had no assets, they happily shopped for an expensive Turtle Rock house in Irvine before McLaughlin's killing. A realtor testified that the couple told her that they expected to enjoy a future financial windfall. McLaughlin's death made Packard, his cheating girlfriend, an instant millionaire.
Another witness, Brian Ringler--a Lake Forest accountant who worked for McLaughlin-- described how Packard depleted the victim's bank accounts, noting that $610,000 went missing in the month of the killing. A Newport Beach police officer who specializes in detecting forgeries told jurors that Packard regularly signed the victim's name on checks to herself.
But, in an attempt to prove his client couldn't have committed the murder, defense attorney Angelo MacDonald, a former Bronx, New York assistant district attorney, got jurors' attention by trying to undermine the prosecution's timeline on the night of the killing.
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MacDonald quibbled with witnesses. He paced. He chewed on his glasses. He interrupted answers he didn't like. Standing in front of the jury box, he used a magnifying glass on photographs. He repeatedly demonstrated that he understands minute issues in the case. He aimed to show jurors that they shouldn't accept the prosecution's version of the crime as gospel.
Will MacDonald succeed? We'll see. Naposki wore a newfound poker face to show satisfaction with his lawyer. Yet, still, across the table, Murphy never looked worried.
Go HERE to see my column about the trial's opening day.
--R. Scott Moxley/ OC Weekly