“He’s got the suit. He’s got the hair. He’s got the watch and the shoes. He’s a master in his style. . . . [He] sounds great, but there’s absolutely no substance. . . . Maybe that works in New York.”
That was Matt Murphy, a senior deputy district attorney in the Orange County district attorney’s office, today scolding Angelo MacDonald, a New York-based defense lawyer for accused murderer Eric Naposki, a pompous former fifth-rate NFL linebacker.
Murphy normally doesn’t slam opposing lawyers in his closing arguments.
Though he’s intense in his trial preparation, he is well-known for his trademark easygoing, low-key, affable courtroom demeanor, as well as his undefeated record in murder cases.
(If you want to see maimed, PTSD-warped defense lawyers who look like they’re emerging from a Vietnam War combat zone, frantically waving a white flag, blood dripping from their vital innards–figuratively, of course–watch the work of Murphy colleague Michael F. Murray, whose mere gaze has probably made more than a couple of once-arrogant defendants pee in their pants.)
In fact, after observing Murphy’s trials for close to 16 years, I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen him really angry.
But during this afternoon’s closing argument in Naposki’s murder trial, it was obvious Murphy is disgusted by MacDonald’s tactics in hopes of saving his client from charges he (and an alleged co-conspirator, Nanette Johnston) murdered William McLaughlin, a wealthy Newport Beach businessman in 1994.
What seems to have aggravated the prosecutor, whose courtroom feats have been featured on network-news documentary shows such as CBS’s 48 Hours and Dateline NBC?
Well, if I had to guess, among other things, I’d point to this: repeated efforts by MacDonald to finger McLaughlin’s adult son, Kevin, as the real killer.
Kevin–a onetime surfing enthusiast who was severely disabled after a drunk driver in Newport Beach ran him over while he was on a bicycle three years before the murder–is the person who called 911 when he heard gunshots, hobbled to the kitchen and found his mortally wounded father on the floor.
If listening to that 911 call doesn’t put tears in your eyes, you’re a cold, callous bastard.
Because of his injuries, Kevin couldn’t speak clearly. Think of the most drunk
person you’ve ever heard — that’s what he sounded like. Then imagine this son’s pain not just from seeing his beloved father shot dead, but also from his inability to express himself clearly to the baffled 911 operator.
Safe to say that Murphy views Kevin, who died in a tragic ocean accident after his father’s death, as probably the most emotionally wounded victim of the murder. It’s also safe to assume the prosecutor views defense efforts to pin the crime on Kevin as, well, not just incredibly absurd, but also despicable.
He cautioned jurors to not “get fooled” by MacDonald’s aggressive style or the humorous ramblings of Gary Pohlson, the local half of the veteran defense team.
“I hope you folks are way too smart for that,” said Murphy. “There are great sounds [coming from the defense lawyers]. But it’s incredibly misleading, and it means absolutely nothing. It sounds great, but there is absolutely no substance.”
According to the prosecutor, Naposki’s co-conspirator and girlfriend at the time of the killing, Johnston, is walking evil.
“If diabolical behavior were an Olympic sport, she’d be a gold medalist,” said Murphy. “She’s an evil manipulator. . . . She’s good for the murder. . . . What this case boils down to is: Did she do it alone, or did they do it together?”
To prove there was a conspiracy, the prosecutor has, for example, demonstrated that Naposki lied to police about owning a 9 mm Beretta 92F, the handgun used by the killer to neatly fire six bullets into McLaughlin’s torso. He’s also shown that Johnston, who was engaged to the victim, told a witness to lie about her spending the hours before the murder with Naposki.
But Murphy says that Johnston–who will face another jury later this year and has already been convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from McLaughlin before and after his murder–wasn’t proficient with guns, while Naposki had been trained extensively in shooting firearms.
“If Nanette is not our shooter, then she got somebody else to do it,” he said while pointing at the defense table and a defendant who was wearing a pink button-down shirt and khaki pants. “He’s sitting right there.”
The deputy DA reminded jurors that a (perhaps the most believable non-police) witness, Suzanne Cogar, told them that Naposki told her before the murder that he wanted McLaughlin dead.
In response to Murphy’s closing arguments, Naposki repeatedly laughed, put funny expressions on his face and shook his head. He’s not crazy. He’s been eying several jurors, and then performing to demonstrate his contempt for the prosecution. Perhaps it’s in the forefront of his mind that all he needs is just one of the 12 jurors to feel sympathy for him.
With Naposki oddly smiling too much, MacDonald took the opposite route. He seethed throughout Murphy’s 59-minute presentation. When he wasn’t angrily scribbling notes, he glared at his courtroom nemesis. After the deputy DA accused the defense of purposefully misleading jurors by manipulating documents to give false weight to their empty assertions, MacDonald deeply sighed. When Murphy accused the defense of brazenly inflating the results of test drives to support Naposki’s alibi that he was several miles away when the killer struck, the former Bronx, New York, homicide prosecutor looked like he was going to explode.
In case it’s not clear, MacDonald is not the type who is ever going to roll over in fear of anybody, much less a California prosecutor he considers a legal lightweight. He has continually mocked what he sees as the incompetence of Newport Beach Police Department and how its alleged lack of investigatory prowess and incompetence has resulted in Naposki’s arrest and trial. At this very moment, I can picture MacDonald pacing his hotel room and wishing he could slug it out with Murphy, who said he’d put the work of cops in Newport Beach up against New York cops any day.
“They weren’t perfect,” said Murphy. “They absolutely made mistakes. But I’ll stack their work up against anybody in New York.”
Naposki bobbed his head and laughed out loud.
“It’s pretty animated over there,” replied Murphy, who then reminded the jury
that what had summoned everyone to Judge William Froeberg‘s 10th floor
courtroom was a vicious murder.
Because of the end of the workday, Murphy is scheduled to finish the opening portion of his closing statement on Tuesday morning. The defense then gets to argue its view of the evidence. After that, Murphy gets a rebuttal statement, and then, probably late tomorrow afternoon, the jury will begin deliberations.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.