The murder of Juliana Redding: A Hollywood whodunit

The murder of Juliana Redding: A Hollywood whodunit

The murder of Juliana Redding: A Hollywood whodunit

Print
Email
|

by CBS News

khou.com

Posted on November 25, 2013 at 10:20 AM

(CBS News) SANTA MONICA, Calif—“This was a targeted offense. Without question… a targeted offense, and she was the target,” said former Los Angeles County prosecutor Alan Jackson.

“She” was Juliana Redding, a beautiful 21-year-old student and model in Los Angeles.

“This is the type of neighborhood that Juliana lived in. The last place in the world that she would ever think she’s being stalked or hunted,” Jackson, the original prosecutor on the case, told “48 Hours” correspondent Maureen Maher.

“The front bungalow right here, this was Juliana’s bungalow. The bedroom where her body was ultimately found is the back bedroom,” Jackson explained as they stood outside Redding’s home.

Juliana’s L.A. story started out like a lot of other young women. She came here in 2005 from Arizona with stars in her eyes and high hopes of making it big. Occasionally she was getting work as an actress and model, but mostly, she was taking classes at a local college and trying to make ends meet as a hostess.

Genevieve Stewart met Juliana at Santa Monica College, where they were both full-time students. They were both ambitious.

“She was getting jobs … to model products or being in music videos and stuff,” Stewart said. “… on average, probably $3,000 and up per job.”

Juliana also had a taste for the good life.

“She lived a pretty fancy lifestyle,” Stewart said. “She was a jet setter, she liked to travel, she liked to do fun things.”

Jack Leonard writes about crime for the Los Angeles Times.

“I usually write about the underbelly of society,” he told Maher. “I don’t usually get to write about whodunits. This was a whodunit!”

“When you opened the [front] door, the first thing you see is a coffee table with a big decorative candle and the candle’s lit. When the police got here and the firefighters got here, when they opened the front door the first thing that happened is they were hit by a wall of this natural gas odor,” Jackson said. “They realized this was a bomb waiting to go off. It probably would have leveled this entire building.”

“And there’d be no evidence,” Maher noted.

“There would be zero,” said Jackson.

But police got lucky. It was an old house and the gas didn’t concentrate enough to explode.

“…and the bars that I see now, were they here at the time of the crime?” Maher asked of the bars on the windows.

“They were, they were,” said Jackson.

“So whoever was in, got in through the door,” said Maher.

“Absolutely,” Jackson said. “This was not a break-in. There was no sign of a struggle to get in or out.”

It was a cool Saturday evening, March 15, 2008.  Police believe the killer entered Juliana’s bungalow just before 10 p.m.

“Things just got out of hand, it got violent,  the fight was on, one thing led to another … they’re fighting throughout the house, fingernails are being broken, Juliana’s head is being smashed against the floor. She had deep contusions of the skull, her throat was being crushed,” Jackson said. “This was an absolute fight. This was a brutal, brutal fight.”

“A fight to the death,” Maher commented.

“A fight to the death,” said Jackson.

“There’s plenty of DNA at this crime scene?”

“Yes,” Jackson replied.

“I can tell you in 18 years of prosecuting cases, I’ve never had this much DNA,” Jackson continued. “The DNA was on the door lock, DNA on a plate in the sink, DNA on that stove knob which you’d expect because someone turned it on, DNA on the front and back of Juliana’s T-shirt and possibly, most importantly, DNA on her throat.”

The first DNA identified belonged to Juliana. It was embedded under her own fingernails.

“When you’re being strangled, you tend to grapple at your own neck,” said Jackson.

“Trying to get that person’s fingers off of your throat?” Maher asked.

“Trying to get that person’s fingers off your throat,” he replied with his hands on his neck. “That’s the natural reaction and that’s an extremely common injury that we see … you immediately grab for your own throat, and Juliana did that in this case.”

“—and indicative of just how hard she fought to try to live,” Maher pointed out.

“Absolutely,” said Jackson.

And there was plenty of other DNA.

“There’s DNA… there’s DNA belonging to a mysterious person that is all over the crime scene,” said Leonard.

Police sent those DNA samples to the lab. Meanwhile, they built a timeline.

A neighbor had reported hearing screams and furniture moved around 9:53 p.m. Another telling clue was found in Juliana’s cell phone.

“When Juliana’s phone was recovered, the evidence very clearly shows that 911 was dialed and the call was terminated before it could go through,” said Jackson.

Detectives were quick to talk to the people closest to Juliana, starting with her father, Greg Redding. “48 Hours” obtained the police videotapes:

Greg Redding | Police interview: As a dad, my message always to her was … be vigilant, keep your eyes peeled, you know?

Redding, a pharmacist from Arizona, almost immediately had a suspect in mind.

Greg Redding | Police interview: You’ve talked to John Gilmore? …  and she’s been on and off with him for a year or two … I think it was John…

John Gilmore is a surfer who had been dating Juliana. He went by her house the morning after the crime—before her body was discovered.

He, too, was interviewed by police:

John Gilmore | Police interview: I looked through the security door… but you could totally see the candle lit on the table.

Greg Redding told police that his daughter’s sometime boyfriend had a history of violent behavior:

Greg Redding | Police interview: He went into some kind of drunken fit of rage and kicked in the door of her car.

And that’s not all. Redding even told police that Gilmore tried to break into Juliana’s apartment.

Greg Redding | Police interview: I told Juliana—I said you get outta there … this guy’s dangerous.

But Juliana didn’t listen to her father. She stuck with Gilmore on and off for nearly two years. They argued often, including the day before the murder.

Detective: You said you got into an argument?

John Gilmore | Police interview: I called her … And I was like … “I’m gonna have beers with the boys” and she is like “OK fine” and then hung up on me.

That might not seem like much, but Gilmore admitted to police that he did have the occasional outburst, though he claimed it never became physical.

John Gilmore | Police interview:  Yeah. We would yell. That time I kicked the door... I was pissed. I kicked it a couple times.

Whatever the state of their relationship was, Gilmore’s story was that night he and Juliana had each gone their own way: Juliana was out with a girlfriend and Gilbert was out with his surfing buddies at a house party several miles away.

But the two were still exchanging text messages until about 10 p.m., when Juliana abruptly stopped communicating.

By the next afternoon, Gilmore says he became increasingly concerned because he still had not heard from Juliana.

John Gilmore | Police interview: I called Juliana numerous times.

Juliana’s mother was also concerned and called police.

John Gilmore | Police interview: The police just opened the doors, and then they told me she was in there [holds his head in his hands].

It would take the lab three months to fully process all the evidence found at the crime scene, but it was worth the wait because the results would take the case in a new direction.

They discovered that all that DNA found on Juliana’s throat, on her clothes, on the stove, on the door knob and even on that plate—it all belonged to a woman.

A REAL WHODUNIT

“So I’m just speculating here, but you have this beautiful young girl in her apartment, she’s been horribly brutalized. She’s been strangled. She’s been beaten,” Maureen Maher noted to former prosecutor Alan Jackson. “I mean, investigators must have been saying, ‘Who the heck could have done this?’  This is really a whodunit.”

“That’s exactly what they were saying,” said Jackson.

“So then, all of a sudden, a wealth of DNA is found and it comes back as female,” said Maher.

“The head scratching went on for some time,” said Jackson.

Authorities began gathering DNA samples.

“Those individuals included just about every female that you could imagine in or around Juliana’s life, and every one of them were testing negative, negative, negative,” Jackson said. “Forty-one females.”

Investigators were left with very few options. So they began to dig deep into Juliana’s relationships. Perhaps the most interesting one was with an older man, a flashy surgeon named Dr. Munir Uwaydah.

Dr. Uwaydah, described by Jackson as a Lebanese -American in his early 40s, was an international man of mystery—a rich Los Angeles-based surgeon with expensive real estate all over the world.

Attorney Birgit Jarsen knew Dr. Uwaydah when she argued a case against him in court in 2008.

“There’s a horse farm in Germany, there is a house by the beach … at least one other house in Beverly hills and just the whole status as a renowned surgeon in the community. It’s very impressive,” said Jarsen.

Uwaydah got his medical degree in Beirut, Lebanon, then completed his training in New York City and at Stanford. He became a surgeon and a successful medical entrepreneur with several clinics.

“… it appears that he can be a very successful businessman, that he can be a very charming and attentive companion… but then there’s also allegations that he has a much darker side,” said Jarsen.

That darker side involved allegations of fraud.

Court records show Dr. Uwaydah’s multimillion-dollar medical businesses have been under investigation.

For example, there’s one case in which he conned a company out of a million-dollar CT scanner. He never paid for it.

“He’d ordered a medical device that he didn’t pay for. The appellate court found that he’d committed fraud and they ordered him to pay almost a million dollars in a judgment,” said Jackson.

Regardless of the questions surrounding his professional life, Dr. Uwaydah had a well known flamboyant personal life, along with his houses, horses and cars. He also apparently liked to collect women—beautiful women, like Juliana Redding. They met in 2007.

“She was young, she was beautiful, and she was working in a restaurant.,” Jackson told Maher of how they met. “Dr. Uwaydah saw her before she saw him.”

It was in Santa Monica, where Juliana was a hostess.  Within days, Dr. Uwaydah offered her a job.

“What was she doing for him,” Maher asked.

“…an assistant of some sort. She didn’t have any formal medical training,” Jackson said. “… he ran a clinic, a series of medical businesses… I think he paid her a very decent salary.”

Apparently, a nice paycheck was only one of the many perks.

“We went to her car to get something and its like a white Range Rover and I’m thinking, like, “’Damn!’” Stewart recalled with a laugh.

Money, a car, and soon the relationship really began to heat up.

Kelly Duncan, once a contestant on “The Bachelor”, was a close friend of Juliana’s. She was also interviewed by police.

Kelly Duncan | Police interview: She ended up living in his house for a while… like it turned into something…

She’s like “Oh, my God. I really like him”… They were like dating. She told her parents that it was no longer like, Munir the boss. It was, like, Munir, the guy I’m dating.

Juliana moved into a lavish Beverly Hills home apparently owned by Dr. Uwaydah.

“Certainly he made it easy on her,” said Jackson.

Easy perhaps, but the relationship, according to Kelly Duncan, became uncomfortable .

Kelly Duncan | Police interview: … the guy’s obsessed with her … he’s obsessed with her … she was giving him the time of day, and he loved it. … he loved having her around, she was like arm candy, he was obsessed. I could see it in his eyes trying to, like, buy her.

And according to friends, he even suggested marriage and offered even more elaborate gifts.

Greg Redding | Police interview: On her 21st birthday he was going to buy her a Lamborghini.

But Juliana was becoming uneasy with the relationship. She wanted to cool things off a bit.   She turned down the Lamborghini, and, in September, she moved out of the Beverly Hills home and into the bungalow, paid for by her father, in Santa Monica.

In spite of that, Juliana stayed in touch with Dr. Uwaydah, even planning a birthday trip with her girlfriends and the doctor to Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Dr. Uwaydah turned his attention to Greg Redding, Juliana’s dad.

Greg Redding | Police interview: He told me, “Greg, I can offer your daughter the world.”

He even offered Redding a job—a pretty good one—over $400,000 a year working as a pharmacist in one of Dr. Uwayadah’s businesses.

Greg Redding | Police interview: I think he wanted my daughter.

The whole thing, you know, I’m not stupid. I thought, is this guy for real? I don’t buy this. I just don’t believe anything …

Greg Redding already suspected that the doctor had some murky business dealings, but he wanted to find out more about a man who seemed to be offering the world to both him and his daughter.

So Redding started digging into Uwaydah’s background. The story picks up in Las Vegas.

“They took a chartered plane to Las Vegas along with several others, including some of Juliana’s girlfriends,” said Jackson.

The plan was to celebrate Juliana’s 21st birthday, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Kelly Duncan | Police interview: Her dad called her and said, “Munir is married in another country.”

Uwaydah was married to a woman in Lebanon and they had three children. All of that was news to Juliana.

“...the evidence suggests she was very, very angry. And unforgiving that she had been lied to,” said Jackson.

That night in Las Vegas, she confronted Uwaydah.

“They got into a fight,” Jackson told Maher. “Juliana said, ‘that’s it.’”

Five months later, Juliana was dead.

THE SUSPECT

In a hotel room in Las Vegas, the news that Dr. Uwaydah was a married man ruined Juliana’s big birthday party. Juliana finally broke up with him.

“Juliana and her girlfriends then got a separate hotel room … and the next morning, they flew back.. That ended up being the end of the relationship,” said Alan Jackson.

That was in October 2007. Juliana may have been done with Dr. Uwaydah, but he was far from over her.

Kelly Duncan | Police interview: … she told me that she was scared to death of Munir in the end…scared to death…he was stalking her.

Kelly Duncan says Juliana told her that what started with persistent text messages from Uwaydah soon moved to him driving by her house and showing up at places she frequented around town.

Uwaydah also continued to pursue Juliana’s father, Greg Redding.

Greg Redding | Police interview: … he actually flew me out for [a] Christmas present to Vegas to watch the Mayweather fight. Him and I went … those tickets were like $1,500 bucks a piece.

And surprisingly, despite reservations about his daughter carrying on personally with the doctor, Greg Redding continued to negotiate his own professional relationship with Uwaydah. Perhaps it was the lure of that six-figure salary or all the trappings that went with it:

Greg Redding | Police interview: I was gonna stay at his Beverly Hills house. He made me all these promises. “You can stay at my home… I’ll help you get a down payment and buy you a house… I’m gonna buy you a car. You pick out any car you want.. You want a Lamborghini or whatever…I’ll get it for you.”

But in March of 2008, the deal fell apart and less than a week later, Juliana was found murdered.

Could the broken business deal between Dr. Uwaydah and Juliana’s father be  the motive for this murder? Or could it be Uwaydah’s bruised ego after Juliana’s rejection?

Investigators threw out the “bruised ego” theory and went with the broken deal.

“The prosecution’s motive was that Dr Uwaydah was in business negotiations with Juliana Redding’s father,” reporter Jack Leonard explained. “… that motive involved Juliana’s father breaking off business negotiation with him just days before Juliana’s murder.

But that would be argued at court. The other side claimed there was no motive, because it was Dr. Uwaydah who broke off the business deal.

Whatever happened, investigators were now clearly focused on Dr. Uwaydah even though the mysterious DNA at the crime scene was female and Uwaydah was out of the country at the time of the murder.

Still, the Uwaydah connection gave police some new possibilities.

“They struck out on these … women that they were checking DNA,” Leonard explained. “It was only when they were looking at female associates of his that they finally happen on Kelly Soo Park.”

Kelly Soo Park, 47, was a licensed real estate broker, born and educated in Southern California. She was an employee of Dr. Uwaydah’s and was said to work closely with him on many of his business deals.

Police followed Park and picked up one of her cigarette butts.

“It was stunning… there were jaws that dropped,” said Jackson.

The DNA from Park’s cigarette matched the DNA at the crime scene.

“Based on the evidence that was presented at trial, that DNA all matched Kelly Soo Park,” said Jackson.

“Do you believe that Juliana had ever even seen Kelly Soo Park before that night?” Maher asked.

“No. The prosecution theory … was very, very clear. These two women absolutely, positively did not know one another. There was no connection between them except Dr.Munir Uwaydah. He dated one of them and employed her and he employed the other,” Jackson replied.

Still, there was the question why? Why would Park attack a woman she didn’t even know?

“Investigators take a closer look at Kelly Soo Park. What do they find?” Maher asked Jackson.

“They find that she is deeply entrenched … Kelly Soo Park may have been hired by Munir Uwaydah in a … capacity that of a enforcer, that of an intimidator, that of muscle, which sounds odd.”

“When I saw Kelly Soo Park for the first time, she presented herself like a thug,” said Cindy Ogden, a real estate agent who had several deals and several business disputes with Dr. Uwaydah.

Ogden told investigators she encountered the nearly 6-foot-tall Kelly Soo Park.

“… like she was an enforcer… a Yakuza or something. That’s what I felt. It was like she was gonna come in and kick some ass,” she continued.

Ogden was brokering a multimillion-dollar commercial real estate deal with Dr. Uwaydah when, she says, Uwaydah used Kelly Soo Park and several other women as intimidators. She says she felt they were pressuring her to come to their terms.  She never did.

“He’s sending out these vixens to do his bidding,” Ogden said. “We were looking at this as a movie, like a ‘Charlie’s Angels’ type of thing where he’s directing these women, but the dark side, you know, the dark side of ‘Charlie’s Angels,’” Ogden explained.

Ogden told her story to police, but prosecutors thought they had stronger examples of Park working as muscle and presented two others in court documents, including one with a banker named Jerry Lukiewski.

“So is it true there’s a wire? And the police hear Uwaydah telling Kelly to go over and straighten that ‘blank’ Jerry out?” Maher asked Jackson.

“Yes. Except he didn’t say ‘blank,’” said Jackson.

That is exactly what investigators say happened in Juliana’s murder.

According to the prosecution, Kelly Soo Park was sent to Juliana’s house by Dr. Uwaydah to scare her and her father back into that broken business deal.

“What the prosecution wanted to argue at the trial was that Kelly Soo Park was muscle for Dr. Uwaydah,” said Leonard.

Armed with the back story of Kelly Soo Park as Dr. Uwaydah’s muscle and that powerful DNA, on March 17, 2010, Park was arrested for the murder of Juliana Redding. She pleaded not guilty and was given a $ 3.5 million bail.

Someone paid her bail, but prosecutors were unable to prove what they believed: that Dr. Uwaydah supplied the money.  There is no doubt though that he transferred other money to Park.

“Beginning in June of 2008, for about the next 18 months, Kelly Soo Park was given over a million dollars by Munir Uwaydah,” Jackson said. “A million, over a million, and that is inconsistent, according to the prosecution, with her ongoing normal employment. What was she, a real estate broker? Did she do some work on the side for him?”

“That would be a hell of a salary for any particular job,” Maher commented.

“Yeah, unless, of course, as the prosecution suggested, it wasn’t a salary,  it was a pay off ,” said Jackson.

But Kelly Soo Park will face her trial alone. Two days after she was arrested, Dr. Munir Uwaydah vanished.

He’s believed to be over 7,000 miles away in Beirut.

THE TRIAL OF KELLY SOO PARK

Nearly three years would pass before Kelly Soo Park faced trial. Alan Jackson, the original prosecutor, moved on to private practice. He was replaced by Stacy Weise.

Before trial, there were two critical decisions from the court: one hurt the prosecution, the other hurt the defense.

The defense disputed all the allegations about Park operating as an enforcer for Dr. Uwaydah.

“Judge said, ‘you can’t bring this in … you haven’t shown that she’s actually acting violently, that she’s doing any of the kinds of things you’re alleging she did with Juliana Redding,” said Leonard.

“The jury never hears this?” Maher asked.

“No,” Leonard replied. “That means that the prosecution can’t argue one of the main theories that they have ... which is that Kelly Soo Park was a muscle—was an enforcer for Doctor Uwaydah.”

It is a significant setback, but the defense is also dealt a blow when the judge disallows one of its strongest arguments.

Remember Juliana’s sometime boyfriend, surfer John Gilmore?

“… the defense wanted to argue that Juliana’s boyfriend may have been the killer,” said Leonard.

But according to prosecutors, Gilmore had a solid alibi.

“John Gilmore was almost immediately cleared of wrongdoing,” Jackson explained. “There was video of him at a convenience store, there was video of him at a Jack In the Box, there was video of him at another location … there was a party at which several individuals all identified him the evening of March 15 between 9:45 and 10:15 or so. The investigators were very comfortable. They knew exactly where John Gilmore was and he was not at Juliana’s apartment.”

Asked if Gilmore had a history of violence, Leonard told Maher, “Basically it’s very difficult for the defense to argue that someone else did it. They have to show that there was more than just a motive, more than just an opportunity.”

“But on TV, Jack, they do it all the time,” Maher noted.

“They do,” Leonard laughed.

“They always say, ‘the boyfriend did it,’” said Maher.

“That’s right,” Leonard replied, “but it’s pretty unusual.

In May 2013, five years after Juliana’s murder, the trial finally begins. The prosecution opened with what many believed was an unimpeachable DNA case.

“The killer, the defendant, got her DNA on Juliana’s tank top during the struggle and during the murder,” prosecutor Stacy Okun-Wiese addressed court.

“Kelly Soo Park’s DNA is on the front door in the locks. Kelly Soo Park’s DNA is on Juliana’s telephone,” Jackson explained. “Kelly Soo Park’s’ DNA is on the front and the back of Juliana’s tee shirt. We know that Juliana died of strangulation and Kelly Soo Park’s DNA is on her throat.”

“That sounds like a slam dunk,” Maher noted to Leonard.

“That’s how the prosecution portrayed it,” he replied.

And there was even more: a single, but telling drop of blood.

“…guess where the blood was found? In a fingerprint on a plate in the sink and the fingerprint was Kelly Soo Park’s left thumb,” said Jackson.

After the prosecution rested, the defense never even challenged the so called “slam dunk” DNA.

“I think that’s a very telling point that the defense didn’t bother trying to say well ‘it’s not Miss Park’s DNA,’” said Dr. Nathan Lents,   a professor of forensic biology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“48 Hours” asked Dr. Lents to help us understand the DNA evidence.

“The statistics are so good, that generally, when you find someone’s DNA at a crime scene …  they’re not gonna dispute that it’s their DNA … they’ll try to dispute how it got there.”

That’s exactly what happened in this case.

Defense attorney George Beuhler waited until closing arguments to launch his attack.

“…when I touch an object, if I leave my DNA, then someone else can come along and touch that object and pick up my DNA and they may go to touch another object, leave my DNA and I never touched that object,” Beuhler told the court.

“The defense had a really bold argument here,” Leonard said. “They argued that the DNA had been transferred from somewhere else … into that murder scene. “

“That much DNA?” Maher asked.

“That much DNA,” Leonard replied.

“Had you ever heard that argument before?”

“I had never heard it before,” said Leonard.

In his closing argument, Beuhler proposed an entirely new theory of the crime, complete with a mysterious killer.

“You have a killer who’s got a rag, he’s going around. He’s wiping the places to get rid of his fingerprints, his DNA, and he’s got Mrs. Park’s DNA, unbeknownst to him, but to his great benefit on that rag.”

The real killer could have cleaned up the crime scene, expunged it of all DNA, then inadvertently planted Kelly Soo Park’s DNA by using a towel that Kelly may have used once five months earlier at Dr. Uwaydah’s Beverly Hills house—a place Park had visited and Juliana had once lived.

“… so maybe she just packed some things quickly and moved and she actually brought with her to her apartment a plate that Mrs. Park had touched and left a fingerprint on and a drop of blood on and maybe a towel,” Beuhler continued.

“I would say it’s exceedingly unlikely that you could accomplish that,” said Dr. Lents.

Dr. Lents says that would be an extremely complicated process and gave “48 Hours” a demonstration.

“Well, primary transfer of DNA is if you have any object that you touch, you’re going to likely leave behind some of your DNA,” Dr. Lents explained, holding a beaker.

“So what if I touch the beaker—I pick it up, I put it down and you pick it up,” said Maher.

“So first of all, I’m gonna deposit my DNA now, mixed in with yours on the glass. That would be called a secondary transfer. So if someone were to swab my hand later, they might get some of your DNA on my hand, with the cup being the intermediate,” Dr. Lents explained.

Asked if that’s common, Dr. Lents told Maher, “We don’t see a lot of secondary DNA transfers in case work.”

“In your expert opinion then, it’s possible that the killer picked up a towel that had been used by the suspect … if there are two different people as the defense claims, and tried to clean the area up using the same towel that had the suspects DNA on it?” Maher asked Dr. Lents.

“That you could deposit DNA from a towel onto a surface while also removing DNA from that same surface in the other direction without any mixture in both places, I would say that’s exceedingly unlikely,” he replied. “If it happened once, I would be very, very surprised. If it happened throughout the crime scene, I think we can safely say that hypothesis doesn’t hold any weight.”

Beuhler didn’t have to prove his theory – he only had to raise reasonable doubt.

“Don’t be fooled by the DNA evidence,” he told jurors.

He also told the jury Park didn’t even know Juliana—had no history of violence or motive and neither did Dr. Uwaydah:

“There’s nothing here to show that even Dr. Uwaydah has a motive to do this… let alone that Kelly Park would have done it for him,” Beuhler said in court.

And he argued, Park was not strong enough:

“Ms. Park may have 3 inches and 40 pounds on Ms. Redding. I submit to you that that’s not enough to account for the brutality,” said Beuhler.

And about that million dollars Kelly Soo Park received from Dr. Uwaydah:

“… what have they shown you about Kelly Soo Park that she’s a successful businesswoman,” said Beuhler.

For more than a week, Juliana’s family and friends came to court reliving every horrible detail of her death. Now, they would wait another seven long days for the jury to render its verdict.

Finally, the jury spoke: not guilty.

But Juliana’s loved ones would get the last word, with outbursts in the courtroom:

Female voice: Murderer.

Female voice: Go to hell. Whore. 

Female voice:  Something wrong here. God bless us all.

THE CONSULTANT

“…the jury acquitting Kelly Soo Park … they just took that knife and twisted it a little bit deeper,” said Genevieve Stewart said of the verdict. “I believe that Kelly Soo Park got away with murder.”

Would you have ever, in your wildest dreams imagined that it would have been an acquittal?” Maher asked Jackson.

“No. That was not something that I was predicting. I can say that,” he replied.

Here was a case the prosecution thought was a slam dunk: all of Kelly Soo Park’s DNA at the crime scene, and yet a verdict of not guilty.  

For one woman who played a key role for the defense, a not guilty verdict meant justice.

“A case like this where there’s so much evidence, that people would say, you know, ‘You are working to exonerate a guilty person,” Maher commented to jury consultant Lee Meihls.

“But why should I believe she’s a guilty person?” Meihls replied. “… the prosecution did not meet their burden of proof..”

Meihls is president of a company called Trial Partners. Park’s defense team hired her to help pick the jury.

Asked what outcome she was expecting, Meihls told Maher, “A hung jury.”

“Did you think that was the best you could get?” Maher asked.

“Yes, I did, I did. We left people on the jury that I never thought in a million years would acquit,” said Meihls.

Meihls was worried because DNA evidence can be very powerful.

“Our biggest challenge was for most people, DNA is DNA and it tells the truth,” she explained. “Everybody gets that from TV.  So we had to have another story about DNA.”

What turned out to matter in this case was the alternate theory put forth by the defense: their story about DNA transfer.

“I felt … our side of the story, made more sense—in terms of, you know, it’s possible.  They’re both in the same place, maybe even on the same day, not necessarily at the same time, you know?  And their –“

“Really? You thought it was possible that all that DNA could be casually transferred, door knobs and stove knobs and the neck and the clothes and the telephone?” Maher asked.

“It’s possible…” said Meihls.

Possible… and what the defense needed was a jury open to its story.

“We’re only allowed 20 minutes to … question the prospective jurors,” Meihls explained, “so I felt that I had to rely on as much of the art of what I do as the science.”

“Give me some specifics of who you were looking for to be on this jury.  What you needed,” said Maher.

“I’m looking for, sometimes, a contrarian,” Meihls said, “someone who doesn’t matter what you say, they’re gonna start challenging you.”

And to find that kind of person, Meihls turned to popular TV crime shows. She asked jurors which shows they liked the best.

“Probably our most favorite juror, who ended up being the foreperson—one of his favorite shows was ‘The Good Wife’.  I thought that was perfect,” said Meihls.

“What is it about that show that made it appealing it for you?” Maher asked.

“They’re openly confronting the fact that they’re often working for clients that they think look guilty, and yet they give them the very best defense possible,” Meihls replied.

But there were other shows that signaled to the consultant that those potential jurors might favor the prosecution.

“’Criminal Minds’ and ‘Blue Bloods’, if those were a juror’s favorite show … they might be more prosecution-oriented,” Meihls explained.

“Do you believe in this verdict?” Maher asked.

“Yes,” Meihls replied. “I think this was a model jury.  They did their job.  I know it was not a popular verdict.  Neither are verdicts in a lot of cases that I’ve worked on.  But they did their job.”

“The verdict really showed that DNA alone is not enough to convict someone. At least for this jury,” Leonard said. “That was going to be a surprise to a lot of people.”

“…people don’t have to agree with the verdict.  People can be shocked.  People can be troubled.  I’m troubled.  But that’s my personal opinion.  I’m troubled,” said Jackson.

And there’s something else about the case that bothered people.

“You’ve got this character who’s being portrayed in court …  but we never get to see him in person.  We never get to hear from him,” Leonard said. “He’s looming over the case.”

Dr. Munir Uwaydah has never been charged with any crime in connection with Juliana’s murder. He is still believed to be in Lebanon with his wife and children.

Juliana’s parents denied our requests for an interview releasing only a written statement shortly after the verdict that reads in part:

“Our family is deeply saddened and shocked… we believe the evidence against the defendant is enormous and that justice has not been served.”

Print
Email
|