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LA murder trial: Gruesome confession, closing drama

By Rick Catlin and Bonner Joy

Murder defendant David Viens wheels himself into court for the first day of his jury trial in Los Angeles Sept. 12 on charges of killing his wife, Dawn Viens. Defense attorney Fred McCurry is at left. Photo Courtesy Sean Hiller/Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif.

David Viens, a former Holmes Beach resident and island restaurant owner is on trial in Los Angeles for murdering his wife, Dawn Viens.

According to reporter Larry Altman, who has covered the Viens case for the Daily Breeze since Dawn Viens’ 2009 disappearance and murder was first suspected, the drama in the trial last week reached “movie-of-the-week” levels.

Last week a sheriff’s office homicide detective testified and provided two hospital confessions by Viens and played the 2009 recordings made by he and his partner.

Viens summoned the detectives to the hospital, where he was recovering from injuries received when he lept 80 feet from a cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes in an apparent suicide attempt.

Viens admitted to the detectives he found his wife dead after he taped her mouth shut and bound her hands and legs and left her on the living floor while he slept.

He found her dead when he awakened four hours later, and put her in a garbage bag in his bedroom closet while he went to work and contemplated what to do.

Viens, 49, and wife Dawn, 39, owned the Thyme Contemporary Cafe in Lomita when she was last seen alive Oct. 18, 2009, according to witnesses.

Viens told friends and customers she had gone into rehab, or moved out of state when he was asked where she was, witnesses said in court.

But Dawn Viens will never be found.

A new girlfriend soon moved into his apartment.

And when the Daily Breeze reported Viens was a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, he took his girlfriend for a high-speed ride into the hills with police giving chase. He stopped the car and lept from a cliff.

He has attended his two-week trial in a wheelchair, wearing a suit and eyeglasses, listening to testimony from friends, family, law enforcement and a forensic pathologist.

The testimony and tape played Sept. 18 was the first almost anyone in the courtroom knew of the confession and the method David Viens — chef and restaurant owner — used to get rid of Dawn’s body.

Jurors heard Viens tell the detectives he took Dawn’s body to the restaurant, put her head first in a 55-gallon drum mixed with discarded grease and covered with weights. He slow-cooked her for four days. He then strained the fluids, putting them in the restaurant grease trap, and put her bones in three garbage bags, mixing them with restaurant garbage in the trash container.

He said he removed the head and jaw and stored it in his mother’s garage attic, although police searched and were not able to find the skull.

On Sept. 20, court opened with the defense ready to continue its case, but Viens said he had differences with his attorney over witnesses, and he wanted to represent himself.

After questioning by the judge with the jury out of the room, he was denied the request. He further declined to testify.

Viens defense attorney sought to question a forensic pathologist, paid to testify by the defense, on the effect of the drugs given Viens during his hospital recovery and of Ambien, a sleep medication Viens claimed to have taken before duct-taping his wife.

But the judge refused to allow testimony about how the hospital drugs or Ambien may have effected Viens, saying Viens had offered the same information about how he would kill someone to his daughter prior to his injuries and in the taped confession.

A short time later, approximately 90 minutes into the day’s proceedings, Viens attorney, Fred McCurry, rested his case.

At this moment, Viens lept from his wheelchair — the first time anyone in court had seen him stand — thrust his right arm upward, and said, “Your honor, I object.”

The judge asked the jury to leave the courtroom.

Viens and his attorney had a discussion, but Viens said nothing more to the judge.

Closing arguments will be heard Sept. 25.

After the outburst Sept. 20, Viens mother said she had not seen her son stand since he suffered injuries by jumping from the cliff, including a broken pelvis, right foot, lower right leg, neck, ribs and spine, al well a collapsed lung and blood clots.

The Viens’ formerly owned the Beach City Market on Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach from 2002-2005.

In January 2005, police raided the Viens’ Holmes Beach house and arrested David Viens on suspicion of possession of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of opium, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm.

Dawn Viens was not charged in that case and said her husband was just the “middle man” in a nationwide drug smuggling operation.

The Florida state’s attorney eventually dropped all charges against Viens in exchange for his cooperation in giving evidence against others involved in the smuggling and sales operation.

For more of Altman’s comprehensive reporting on Viens’ crime and the trial, including transcripts of Viens’ confessions, go to www.islander.org. for a link to the Daily Breeze.

At the Daily Breeze website, enter Viens in the search window for current and past stories and a timeline of related stories.  http://www.dailybreeze.com

You also can follow Larry Altman’s courtroom breaking news on Twitter at http://twitter.com/larryaltman

David Viens’ first confession to sheriff’s homicide Sgt. Richard Garcia at County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on March 1, 2011, six days after he jumped from Rancho Palos Verdes cliff. Jurors read this transcript while listening to the recorded interview.  Click here for Confession

Second confession March 15, 2011.  Click here for Confession

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