There's no dispute that vicious, Southern California killer Stephenson Choi Kim managed to enjoy his maximum security inmate status with sex dates, porn, marijuana, a vibrator, cigarettes, restaurant food, razor blades, tools and an AT&T cell phone (plus earpiece and charging cord) inside the Orange County Jail system.
But at a just-launched trial there's a tense debate about whether Kim owes his perks to a corrupt jail deputy–David Lloyd Cass, or merely gross incompetence inside the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD).
According to prosecutor Aleta Bryant, Cass betrayed his job by aiding Kim from 2009 to 2012 and taking bribes like expensive hockey match tickets as well as hundred of dollars in gift certificates to Burke Williams Day Spa, Dave & Busters and In-N-Out Burger.
"[Cass] accepted gifts," said Bryant, who also claims the jail deputy served as a lookout for the killer and hatched an escape plan to save him from a punishment of life in prison without the possibility for parole. "He was influenced in his duties."
The prosecutor says a December 31, 2012, raid on Kim's cell recovered portions of the smuggled contraband–nine packets of marijuana, rolling papers, lighters and the phone hidden behind a jail television set–and ended the sweetheart arrangement.
A responding probe discovered extensive email, phone and text messaging contacts between the deputy and Kim's wife, Ha Duc Nguyen.
If Bryant eventually wins convictions inside Superior Court Judge Patrick H. Donahue's 11th floor, Santa Ana courtroom, the deputy faces a potential maximum punishment of incarceration for more than four years.
But that scenario isn't going to happen, according to Lewis Rosenblum, who more than once in past decades won honors as California's top trial prosecutor and, now in private practice, the defense lawyer representing Cass.
"It sounds like a perfect case," a mocking Rosenblum told the jury during his opening statement. "Why have a trial?"
He argued Bryant's charges–filed with the aid of an internal OCSD investigation that resulted in the early 2013 arrest of Cass–weren't the result of a search for the truth but rather a rush to judgment and a foolish reliance on the wobbling statements of two untrustworthy witnesses: Kim, "a sociopath," and Nguyen, "a liar and a manipulator."
Cass wasn't aware of as many as 30 sexual interludes–including the shooting of a film of the killer masturbating and lengthy anal, oral and vaginal sex sessions–inside the jail's attorney-bonds area he controlled or the smuggling of contraband from Nguyen's vagina to Kim, Rosenblum claims.
But he says his client is guilty of something: "Being a decent guy and stupid" for allowing himself to be the scapegoat by giving Nguyen his personal cell phone number and accepting gifts he thought were innocent Christmas presents.
"He didn't realize he was being played," Rosenblum stated. "That was a mistake he made, but accepting gifts is not a crime . . . You will never hear evidence he asked for anything."
Rosenblum, easily one of the most skillful lawyers in the county, didn't deny the bond between Cass and Kim, but explained that the killer snitched on a 2008 gang plot to kill the deputy.
"My client took [the tip] as a very nice thing," he said. "He might have saved my client's life."
Rosenblum also told jurors his trial strategy relies mostly on his future cross examination of Nguyen because, he insisted, if there are serious questions about her honesty, then there must be reasonable doubt about his client's guilt.
"Cross examination is the engine of the truth," he declared. "[The government's] witnesses are lying. Yeah, little bits and piece may be the truth, but they embellished them."
Bryant isn't planning to call Kim as a witness, a move the defense lawyer labeled suspicious given that prosecution teams have interviewed him three times at prison.
Nguyen, who has uttered multiple versions of stories and is residing inside the Santa Ana Jail, previously admitted her role in the bribery scheme and is awaiting a July sentencing hearing.
Bryant called her first witness this afternoon and the case resumes tomorrow.
Kim–33 and a Santanas Gang member who used the moniker "Dragon"–lives at the California State Prison at Sacramento.