In most respects, today was a typical day in Orange County: Surfers hit Pacific Ocean waves under a cloudless sky. Shoppers crammed into South Coast Plaza. The notorious 55 freeway wrecked people's schedules. Excited tourists piled into Disneyland and the water cooler topic remained the Little Saigon woman who on Monday, allegedly drugged her husband, chopped off his penis, threw it down a kitchen sink and turned on the disposal.
In other words, there were plenty of distractions from a major event in the history of the county's criminal justice system.
Inside Judge William R. Froeberg's 10th floor courtroom at OC's Central Courthouse in Santa Ana late this afternoon, a jury of seven women and five men pronounced Eric Naposki, an ex-NFL linebacker, guilty of murder.
People get convicted of murder all the time, but this case was exceptionally special--and not just because the accused killer played professional football for the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Barcelona Dragons.
Or because Naposki's Newport Beach victim--an immensely talented and lovable William McLaughlin--had earned more than $55 million when a scumbag brutally fired six hollow tip bullets into his torso and left him dying in his own kitchen on Dec. 15, 1994.
Or necessarily because it has taken many years for the first prong of justice to locate McLaughlin's surviving adult daughters, Jenny and Kimberly McLaughlin.
The successful case against Naposki, arguably the county's most puzzlingly cocky homicide defendant in my memory, was an affirmation of the excellence that exists within OC's law enforcement community. As a crime writer who well knows there are within our borders tragically flawed, despicable people wearing high-ranking badges, it's nice to see good cops--the ones who are worth triple whatever we pay them--win a tough fight.
Here are our heroes: Newport Beach Police Department detectives Thomas Voth (retired), Craig Frizzell (retired) and Joe Cartwright; Investigator Larry Montgomery with the Orange County District Attorney's office; and veteran homicide prosecutor Matt Murphy. Remove any one of these five public servants from the equation and a macho-acting but pusillanimous killer still would be roaming free.
Here's the irony: the defense team, three-fourths of them from New York, repeatedly ridiculed the cops on Naposki's case as if they were Barney Fife's dim-witted, cross-eyed cousins.
The jury obviously didn't buy that characterization and good for them.
Because here's the beauty of this case--the reason we all should be pleased tonight: For 13 years, Newport Beach cops couldn't decisively solve McLaughlin's murder, but they never gave up.
The cops weren't perfect--even they'd admit that. Yet, in 2007, police officials--namely Cartwright--had the courage to risk potential public embarrassment for the department by handing over the case to the DA's Montgomery, a veteran, cold-case, super sleuth.
"That's the mark of true professionalism," Murphy told me. "They didn't care if they got embarrassed for screwing something up. All they were focused on was solving this murder, finding the killers and bringing them to justice. That's outstanding. That's what people should remember."
Not surprisingly, Montgomery--my nominee for the county's most underpaid cop--did find new, substantial incriminating evidence against Naposki and his alleged co-conspirator, Nanette Johnston, and handed it over to Murphy, an accomplished member of the DA's elite homicide prosecution unit.
Earlier I mentioned that only one prong of justice has greeted Jenny and Kimberly McLaughlin; Johnston's trial as Naposki's co-conspirator is set to begin on Nov. 4.
If she has any common sense, Johnston--who was called "diabolical" by both the prosecution and defense in the just finished case--must realize the chances of her ever taking a single breath in freedom again just loudly evaporated unless her feisty public defender, Mick Hill, can pull off a miracle.
Receiving a "guilty" verdict in a murder trial probably wouldn't be an experience that most normal people would laugh off. As Naposki heard this jury's decision, he smirked like he did when the prosecutor played the incredibly painful 911 call the victim's now dead son, Kevin, made to police when he found his dad shot.
This defendant was so stupid he laughed and smiled and snorted throughout his trial.
I guess some jerks have to be callously disgusting all the way to the end.
Hey, Eric, I'm betting California's lovely correctional prison system, your likely home until you die, brings you many future moments to smirk.
Bye. Bye. Send me a postcard.
Meanwhile, back in common decency territory, there remains Jenny and Kimberly. I saw their strength during painful moments in the trial. (Who wants to see horrible crime scene pictures of their murdered father?)
After today's verdict, they were appropriately solemn. They praised the cops and the DA's office as well as the jurors. They hailed the moment as an honor to their slain dad.
During the trial, Naposki's visiting New York pals from Pappalardo & Pappalardo pompously berated everything here: the prosecutor--who has never lost a homicide case, the cops, the media, etc. They dripped smugness. They routinely doused themselves in cologne, perhaps in an attempt to mask their previous night's excessive bar activities. They constantly rolled their eyes because--they wanted us to know--they were the superior ones in the courtroom. They called people "zit-faced" and "stupid" and "losers." One of them, a former prosecutor for God's sake, shamelessly mad-dogged me.
Naposki and his testosterone-overloaded, legal crew wouldn't know class if it ran them over, backed up, and ran them over a second time.
Hope you boys get cocktails at half price on your coach Jet Blue trip back to La Guardia. Make sure your laundry shops remove the footprint imprints left on the back of your pants by the victorious California crew. Like, totally, you know what I mean, Richard A. Portale?
But here's a powerful image that the gutter boys could never appreciate: After the verdict had been read and the handcuffed, still defiant defendant taken from the courtroom, Kimberly McLaughlin walked over to Naposki's weeping fiancee, Rosie Macaluso--a school teacher still clinging absurdly to the notion that her boy is the victim here--and consoled her.
Given everything that Kimberly and her sister have endured over the years--including the disingenuous indignities thrown by Naposki's defense in hopes of fingering their disabled brother as the killer, that's an inspiring sign of class.
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Next up: an Oct. 21 sentencing hearing.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
(rscottmoxley at ocweekly dot com)