The widow of Kevin Brown filed a wrongful death suit against the city of San Diego, San Diego Police, and detectives Michael Lambert and Maura Mekenas-Parga. Both detectives appeared in court.
The trial before an eight-member jury and U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw will last two weeks. No charges were ever filed against Brown, 62, before he hung himself in 2014 after detectives seized 14 boxes of items in his home to see if anything linked him to the strangulation of Clair Hough, 14, in 1984.
Rebecca Brown's attorney, Eugene Iredale, and Deputy City Attorney Catherine Richardson gave different interpretations over the way the cold case homicide investigation was restarted after Brown's DNA was found in a semen swab from the victim after it was retested in 2012.
Iredale said it was common for male crime lab employees to use their own semen as a control when testing for sperm was done on evidence. Richardson said Lambert did not know this occurred when he presented a search warrant to a judge authorizing the seizure of Brown's belongings.
Iredale said only 150 sperm cells linked to Brown were found in the crime scene which he described as a minuscule amount. Usually, there are 200 to 600 million sperm cells found within semen samples, he said.
Iredale said the link to Brown only occurred because of cross-contamination with Brown's semen samples since he worked in the same crime lab where he was being investigated.
"He told Becky, again and again, he wasn't guilty," said Iredale.
Richardson told the six-men and two-woman jury that Hough was visiting her grandparents from Rhode Island when she slipped out their nearby home on Aug. 23, 1984, at 9:30 p.m. to smoke cigarettes and carried a boom box with her to relax on the beach.
She was found strangled the next morning with sand in her mouth and her left breast was cut off, said Richardson. Police worked to solve the case and wondered if it was related to a similar homicide on Torrey Pines State Beach in 1978, said Richardson.
Both attorneys said there was also a DNA match with Ronald Tatro who had a prior record of sexual assaults, but he drowned in 2011. Iredale said Lambert had a theory that Brown also assaulted the girl while associating with Tatro, even though the two men had likely never met each other.
Iredale said police seized 30,000 family photos, a picture of Jesus, a 1930 yearbook, info about Roger Maris and all newspaper articles to see if anything was about the 1984 homicide.
"They did not bother to look at it. Pack it up!" said Iredale about the seizure of 14 boxes of belongings.
Iredale said "nothing" was found in any of the boxes that showed any link to the crime.
Richardson said Lambert retired in 2018 after 28 years with San Diego Police. She said he investigated hundreds of homicides.
"They didn't seize everything," said Richardson, adding detectives wanted to find out if there was any connection between Brown and Tatro.
"He did not have a fourth amendment right to not be investigated," said Richardson. "He was under investigation... The evidence will show that Detective Lambert had to conduct an investigation."
"Detective Lambert did not lie, leave out material facts...or mislead the judge," said Richardson, referring to the 34-page affidavit that Lambert helped write.
Richardson said when Kevin Brown was interviewed, he said he recalled having sex with a young woman named Clair in the 1980s in a hotel. She said Brown then called his three ex-roommates and asked them if they recalled anything about her.
Richardson said Brown was nicknamed "Kinky Kevin" at the crime lab in the 1980s because he often talked about things he did on weekends. He was 32 years old at the time and attended strip clubs.
Richardson told the jury she would ask them to return in favor of the detectives and the police department.
Iredale did not specify the number of damages in his opening statement. The first witness he called was a forensic DNA consultant.