A defense attorney for Brian Lee Randone said Wednesday that the 2009 asphyxiation death of Felicia Lee was a "tragic accident" caused by an overdose of the drug GHB, not the actions of his client.
Attorney Ed Rucker gave his opening statement Wednesday afternoon after prosecutor in September 2009.
Rucker said his client loved Lee and intended to marry her before she died the morning of Sept. 11, 2009. He described Lee as a "careless" drug addict who had a potentially lethal amount of the drug GHB in her blood when she was found dead.
"We feel evidence is going to show that there was not a crime committed here, that this is a tragic accident," Rucker told the jury of nine women and three men. "This is not a case of who caused the death of Felicia Lee. This is not a whodunit. This is a question of what" caused her death, he said.
Rucker said Randone, a former contestant on a reality TV show, was a successful businessman who ran a small telecommunication company. He was in love with Lee and intended to marry her, Rucker said.
They traveled together and lived together, and he had even taken her to Omaha, NE in the past to meet his parents, he said.
"It was the first woman he’d ever taken there and said, 'This is the one,'" Rucker said.
In fact, prosecutors will not offer any evidence that shows Randone had a motive to kill Lee, Rucker said.
"The evidence is that there is no motive, there is no reason that he would do this," Rucker said. "You will not hear testimony of a reason for him to have done this."
Much of Rucker’s opening statement focused on the dangers of GHB, which is commonly referred to as the "date rape drug." Lee was addicted to the drug, Rucker said, and had been drinking it out of a water bottle the night she died.
"It is not a recreational drug. It has a much darker side--that is documented in study after study—that kills you," Rucker said. "If you take enough of this drug, you will die. That is not in dispute."
Rucker said Lee was using a large amount of GHB the night before her death and became upset with Randone after he made plans to have dinner with someone else after work. As the night went on, she sent text messages to Randone that got progressively angrier, two of which referenced the police.
It was a "fair inference" to assume that Lee was getting more and more intoxicated, Rucker said, quoting two messages she sent:
"I have been driven to the point of insanity," she wrote in on text to Randone. "Very important you get back to me before the cops come as I am freaking out. I have no one," she wrote in the other.
Rucker said Randone returned to the apartment and found Lee injured from "stumbling about" while intoxicated and treated her wounds with hydrogen peroxide that was found on the nightstand the day of her death. At one point she fell and broke through a particle board closet door before Randone put her to bed to "let her sleep it off," Rucker said.
Pointing out jagged pieces of the particle board in a photo taken the day Lee was found, Rucker suggested that some of the abrasions and bruises were caused by her fall into the closet.
"What (the wounds) really show and the evidence reveals is that she fell into the closet and continued to flail about...," Rucker said, noting that police did not find any instrument they believe was used to strike Lee.
Randone went about his business the following day, making several business calls until he went to the bedroom just after noon to check on Lee and found her unconscious, Rucker said.
At that point, Randone tried to revive her by carrying her to the shower and turning it on, Rucker said.
"He tried to wake her up in the shower, doesn’t work," he said.
He then placed a "frantic call" to police, some of which was recorded and played for the jury.
Rucker said he intends to call an expert who will testify that Lee died from a GHB overdose. He said it was "impossible" for Randone to have killed her based on her time of death, which he said would have coincided with Randone's business calls.
"Brian Randone was occupied on the phone at the time of Felicia Lee's death," Rucker said.
After Rucker finished his argument, Wojdak called his first witness, bringing Dr. Ajay Panchal, the medical examiner from the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner who performed the autopsy on Lee, to the stand.
Panchal testified that he determined Lee's cause of death to be asphyxiation due to smothering based on the abrasions and bruising to Lee's face and inside her mouth. He said her wounds were "consistent with pressure being applied to her face."
The abrasions and bruising on her neck, limbs, and torso were the result of blunt force trauma from an "object striking" her body, Panchal said.
Check back tomorrow for more coverage of testimony in the Randone trial.