At the closing arguments for a trial of the murder trial of a 26-year-old Nevada woman who allegedly murdered a 32-year-old Altadena man in 2007, the defense and prosecution laid down radically different interpretations of what happened at a cul-de-sac off Canyon Crest Drive on a March day in 2007.
Mesha Arshaz Dean stands accused of shooting and killing Monroe Miles, 32, of Altadena after she and her girlfriend, Vanessa Marie Ochoa, attempted to take Ochoa's child from his father's home on Canyon Dell Drive and bring him back to Las Vegas to live with Ochoa. She has also been charged with kidnapping and child endangerment.
Miles, the boy's uncle, had been watching the child and attempted to stop them from taking him back. After Dean shot Miles, Ochoa and Dean fled back to Nevada as police put up an "Amber alert" and listed Ochoa's son as a missing child.
Dean's lawyer, Edward Murphy, has made the case that Dean shot Miles in self-defense and that she is innocent of all charges.
"There was no kidnapping, there was no willful endangerment, and there was no murder," Murphy told the jury at the Los Angeles Superior Court during closing arguments on Monday.
Prosecutor Tamu Usher told the jury a totally different story, one in which Dean and Ochoa came on a mission to take Ochoa's 4-year-old son and were ready to use deadly force if necessary.
"[Dean] brought [her gun] with her; she had the safety pulled; and she had one in the chamber ready to go," Usher said. "When Monroe Miles was trying to save his nephew from something he didn't understand, they shot him."
Closing arguments are scheduled to be completed on Tuesday, and a verdict is likely this week.
The Importance of the Kidnapping Charge
Much of the case's outcome could hinge on whether jurors decide Dean is guilty of kidnapping or not: Usher explained during closing arguments that should they decide Dean is guilty of the kidnapping, and find her to have done the shooting, she would be guilty of first-degree murder, which carries the most serious penalty of any level of murder charges.
But if the jury agrees that she is not guilty of kidnapping, they may also agree with Murphy's argument that Dean's only intent in coming to the Miles home was to give Ochoa a ride so she could go get her child--Ochoa, he noted, neither owned a car nor had a driver's license.
Helping the defense's argument about the kidnapping is the fact that Ochoa actually called the police twice on the way to Altadena to ask them about the legality of taking her child home with her. Ochoa had agreed to allow the Miles family to look after her son for several months while she set up her new life in Henderson, NV.
Ochoa called the Pasadena Police Department and then the to confirm she had the right as the child's mother to take him back. She also attempted to call Mark Miles, the boy's father, to ask him to meet her and bring their child to him at a location besides the Miles' family home.
Murphy argued this was evidence that the pair did not kidnap Ochoa's son and had no intention of causing any trouble when they arrived to the home.
However, the difficulty in establishing this set of facts is that Ochoa has already taken a deal and pleaded guilty to all counts in the case, including kidnapping. According to court documents, Ochoa could receive a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
Murphy argued to the jury that Ochoa's admission of guilt does not mean that Dean must also be convicted of kidnapping.
Murphy argued that the shooting of Monroe Miles was self-defense and discussed testimony from Ochoa that suggested that Miles was threatening Ochoa and Dean with bodily harm. He told jurors that the victim was to blame for the shooting.
"He brought it on himself, and that is the terrible tragedy here," Murphy said.
When the pair got to the house, Ochoa went in to see her son, and Dean stayed in the car, according to testimony for Ochoa.
During that point, Ochoa testified, Monroe Miles started to ask about Dean and whether she was waiting outside.
Murphy argued that both Monroe Miles, the victim, and his brother, Mark Miles, the father of Ochoa's child, were angry that Ochoa had left Mark to start a relationship with another woman. He further suggested that other members of the relatives family were against Ochoa taking her 4-year-old child home because they had religious objections to homosexual relationships.
Murphy noted that Ochoa had testified that Monroe Miles became angry when they were in his home and repeatedly said he was going to go out to the car and "blast" Dean. He also asked her, "Is that bitch here?" according to Ochoa's testimony.
Monroe Miles later came out to the car when Ochoa was bringing her child and putting him in the car. Ochoa testified that at this point, Miles tried to get into the car and told Dean he would "beat her ass" if Ochoa had been his girlfriend.
At this point, according to Ochoa, Miles became violent, punching her and grabbing her by the hair. Dean told detectives in the case that Miles also came around to Dean's side of the car and hit her, though testimony in the case established that Dean did not have any bruises or other marks when she was taken into custody three days later.
Usher argued that Monroe Miles had reacted as any relative would if his nephew was being taken away: She suggested that Ochoa did not have permission to take the child. Though she conceded that Miles may have grabbed Ochoa's hair while scuffling with her, she suggested that Miles' purpose in the struggle was to get the child back, not to hurt Ochoa or Dean.
She also noted that Miles had carried a phone outside of the house with him, suggesting he was ready to call the police or his brother to try to stop them from taking the child, not that he was prepared to use violence to do so.
And ultimately, she suggested, Dean carrying a loaded gun suggests she did not have a clear need to shoot Miles in self-defense.
"What was the victim armed with? Nothing but a white telephone," Usher said.
Murphy and User also discussed Dean's state of mind after the shooting at length. Murphy pointed to testimony from Ochoa that Dean suggested the pair should turn themselves in--he argued it was Ochoa who pushed them to flee back to Nevada and possibly go on the run. Dean told Ochoa that the killing was in self-defense and that they should turn themselves in, Murphy said.
Usher, on the other hand, pointed to some rap lyrics found at Dean's home by police that she said glorified the killing and suggested Dean was proud to have shot someone.
Murphy told Patch that when finishing closing arguments on Tuesday he planned to quote, or possibly even sing, Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" song with its famous line, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." The point, he said, would be to show that rapping or singing about murder does not mean the person is proud of or enjoys real-life violence.