On the same day that a prosecutor questioned why a supposedly innocent murder suspect decided to engage in "mind f-ing the police" who were attempting to solve the crime, a defense lawyer for that man, ex-NFL linebacker Eric Naposki, declared his client "not guilty" and ridiculed the prosecution's case as "desperate" and riddled with "nonsense" and "crazy" conclusions.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy and Naposki defense lawyer Gary Pohlson used their respective closing arguments today in Orange County's Central Courthouse to tell jurors that the other side is attempting to thwart justice in the 1994 murder of wealthy Newport Beach businessman William McLaughlin.
Though defense co-counsel Angelo MacDonald, New York City's hard-hitting, rascally contribution to the Naposki team, was left to sit quietly, Murphy and Pohlson, two longtime pals, traded oral punches. And, despite moments that prompted hearty courtroom laughter, the atmosphere often got bitter.
"This guy is not guilty," argued Pohlson, who said Murphy had attacked MacDonald's aggressive legal style yesterday in desperation to save a weak case. "They have failed to prove anything and we have raised lots of doubts . . . I don't understand why this case was ever filed. There are so many questions, so much reasonable doubt . . . Not one piece of evidence shows that he committed this crime."
But Murphy called Naposki's post-murder conduct with his alleged co-conspirator, Nanette Johnston, "outrageous," "arrogant," "astounding," and the work of a "bully" whose acts make "perfect sense" for someone who is guilty of murder.
"The shooter is sitting right there," Murphy said while pointing to Naposki, who looked away and mumbled something under his breath. "If you didn't do it, then the truth is absolutely your best friend. Making up a fake alibi is very telling."
The senior deputy district attorney then called Naposki's numerous attempts at establishing an alibi "garbage."
Of course, Pohlson didn't like that description. He called Murphy's recounting of the evidence "misdirection."
But here's where both the prosecution and defense agree: Johnston--who was simultaneously sleeping with the dirt poor then-27-year-old Naposki and the 55-year-old victim who was earning more than $100,000 a month--is an evil, lying, scank--this term is not too harsh given the testimony--who can put "murderer" as the only legitimate entry on her otherwise deceitful resume.
Pohlson says the evidence shows that Johnston--who faces her own trial later this year--planned to kill McLaughlin, shot him herself and then allowed her gullible lover to become the prime suspect.
"He's the perfect patsy," said Pohlson.
Murphy says an abundance of evidence shows Johnston, who instantly became a millionaire the second McLaughlin took his last breath, and Naposki planned the murder together and the ex-New England Patriot fired the six, fatal bullets. He asked: Who did Johnston, a major beneficiary in McLaughlin's will, talk to before and after the murder? The evidence shows it was Naposki.
"They're inseparable," said the prosecutor.
Besides, Murphy asked jurors to ponder a key question. Why, if a killer was on the loose--indeed a killer who'd somehow obtained McLaughlin's house keys--did both Johnston and Naposki take no safety precautions in the aftermath of the Dec. 15 murder even though they were occupying the dead man's beach house?
"A killer is loose and they didn't have a fear in the world," Murphy said. "They waited until Dec. 28--13 days [after the murder]--to change the locks."
According to Murphy, that fact is incriminating.
"What does the 'innocent' Eric Naposki know that the Newport Beach police don't know? he asked mockingly. "That's one more thing that absolutely doesn't make sense if he's innocent . . . Why didn't he ask the Newport Beach police for protection? . . . Very telling."
There were, at least to me, other facets of today's hearing that were telling.
Pohlson is a nice man and a good defense lawyer, but I think he failed this afternoon. While he did score on several points, I wanted to know why Naposki lied to police about owning a Beretta 92F, the killer's weapon. I wanted to know why his client also blatantly lied to police about the coziness of his relationship with Johnston. (Both falsehoods were captured in audio recordings and played for jurors.) I wanted to hear a plausible defense explanation for why Suzanne Cogar, a witness without an interest in the trial's outcome, testified that Naposki told her he wanted McLaughlin dead in the days before the murder.
I'd imagine that jurors felt the same way: disappointed that Pohlson supplied no meaningful answers to any of those key issues.
But here's what really bothered me: Murphy and the cops have more than satisfied any reasonable person's expectations about whether an 8:52 p.m. call from a payphone at a Santa Ana Denny's was a solid, case-crushing alibi for Naposki.
Time and again, to the point of driving the gathered media crazy (but not necessarily crabby, true crime book author Caitlin Rother--who told me today not to include her views in my articles and strongly implied that she would never talk to me again if I did; she'd never supplied me any meaningful information anyway, but, well, okay, whatever...), the government showed that even if that call was actually made by Naposki, he still had "plenty" of time to drive to Newport Beach and kill McLaughlin before getting to his job as a nightclub bouncer 52 seconds away from the crime scene.
Despite an abundance of contrary evidence, Pohlson merely stated--as MacDonald did in his opening statement--that Naposki couldn't have possibly had the time to get from Denny's and execute the murder.
Come on, boys. That is probably the weakest attack on solid prosecution evidence I've ever seen. Shame on you.
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SHOW ME HOW
But the good news for Naposki--who spent the day scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, winking at pals in the audience and snorting at Murphy--is that Pohlson will get a final chance to sway the jury tomorrow morning in Judge William Froeberg's Santa Ana courtroom.
Will he tackle the unanswered questions?
If he doesn't, it forecasts eventual doom for the defense in this trial or the next.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly