48 Hours producer Greg Fisher is covering the Kelly Soo Park case and filed this report.
As jury deliberations began in the trial of accused murderer Kelly Soo Park, prosecutors surprised the court Wednesday requesting that the judge remand Park into custody to await the verdict in jail, calling her a "flight risk."
While most Los Angeles County criminal defendants accused of murder remain in custody before and during trial, Park - a woman standing 5 feet, ten inches tall, with jet-black, long hair and delicate features - is anything but the typical murder suspect. She made bail for $3.5 million in Nov. 2010 and has been free ever since wearing a security ankle bracelet.
Park is charged with beating and strangling aspiring Hollywood model Juliana Redding in her Santa Monica apartment on March 15, 2008. She faces a sentence of 25 years to life if convicted of first-degree murder. Her trial began May 15 and a jury was sent to begin deliberations following closing arguments Wednesday.
Prosecutors insisted Park could flee citing concerns about her recent activity.
Assistant District Attorney Stacey Okun-Weise revealed that days ago Park had visited a hospital seeking treatment and inquiring if her ankle bracelet could be removed. Okun-Weise suggested this was simply an effort on Park's behalf to test her ability to evade monitoring because when the request to remove the security bracelet was denied, she said, Park left the hospital without getting any medical tests.
Park's attorney, George Buehler, insisted that Park did indeed receive testing at the hospital and explained to the court that the request to remove the bracelet involved the possible need for an MRI.
When the judge asked if there had been problems with the electronic monitoring system, Santa Monica Police Dept. Det. Karen Thompson explained there have been problems, suggesting that Park may have been "tampering" with the equipment.
Okun-Weise alerted the judge that Park, who recently married a retired Oxnard Police Commander, is driving a vehicle with confidential law enforcement license plates issued to her husband, implying this could facilitate an attempt to escape justice.
"It disturbs me that she is driving a car with confidential plates. That bothers me a lot," said Judge Kathleen Kennedy.
Park's connection to a Lebanese doctor who prosecutors said is funding her defense allows her access to financial resources and private jets that might abet her absconding, Okun-Weise told the judge.
Prosecutors allege the doctor, Munir Uwaydah, who employed Park and briefly dated Redding, is the link between the accused killer and the murder victim.
In closing arguments Wednesday the prosecution told jurors that Park's DNA, blood and fingerprint found at the crime scene clearly implicated her as the killer. Okun-Weise said the evidence of strangulation, including Park's DNA on the victim's neck, indicated a decisive resolve to kill worthy of a finding of first-degree murder.
Defense attorney Buehler asked the jurors not to trust the prosecutor's conclusions, suggesting that Park's DNA could have been transferred to the crime scene from a previous residence of Redding's where one defense witness testified to having met both Redding and Park.
Buehler also criticized the prosecutor for failing to define a motive, claiming his client could not be so "evil."
In a pre-trial motion, prosecutors alleged Park and her boyfriend worked as "muscles" for Uwaydah, "frequently using tactics of threats and intimidation to facilitate favorable terms for the doctor's business enterprises." They claimed Park confronted Redding about a stalled business deal between the doctor and Redding's father.
The defense denied the allegations, and the judge ruled against admitting the information at trial.
Okun-Weise pointed out to Judge Kathleen Kennedy that Uwaydah had "fled the country" after Park's arrest. Early on during pre-trial hearings, prosecutors labeled Uwaydah as a "person of extreme interest," but never charged him with a crime. Uwaydah is currently living in Lebanon.
Park leaned her head back and visibly recoiled at the accusation that she was a flight risk. Her attorneys challenged the idea arguing that Park has never missed a hearing or trial date since she made bail more than two years ago. They pointed out that family members faced substantial losses if Park skipped out on her $3.5 million bail.
Josh Herman, Park's bail bondsman who would be on the hook for the $3.5 million bail, said he has no worries that Park would flee. Herman has reportedly worked as a bail bondman for gangster rapper elite including Dr. Dre and Snoop Lion.
Judge Kennedy denied the prosecution's request to remand Park into custody but issued a stern warning, "If you are late at all (to court during the deliberation process) you will be remanded."