DOWNTOWN L.A. — Juliana Redding, a 21-year old aspiring actress and model, had dreams of making it big in Hollywood.
Instead she spent her final minutes fighting for her life, prosecutors said Wednesday in a Downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The jury trial began in the case of Kelly Soo Park, the woman accused of strangling Redding to death in her Santa Monica apartment in 2008.
Park, who has been out on $3.5 million bail, appeared in court wearing a white shirt, her long black hair straightened.
In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Stacy Okun-Wiese painted a scene in which Redding returned home after dinner with a friend, fought for her life against Park, who after strangling Redding and leaving her body in a bedroom, left the apartment with a lit candle and a gas stove turned on.
“Juliana Redding spent the last moments of her life trying to save herself from a stranger who beat and strangled her until she had her last breath of air,” Okun-Wiese said.
DNA evidence linked Park directly to the scene of the crime, she added.
Defense attorney George Buehler cautioned jurors against putting too much faith in forensic evidence proffered by the prosecution, which he said could give no explanation for when or how the DNA arrived in Redding’s apartment.
“There is no evidence that shows Kelly Park had any reason to commit this crime,” Buehler said.
Buehler had another suspect to put toward jurors, Redding’s on-again-off-again ex-boyfriend who had a history of lashing out, even denting her car in one incident.
He offered a string of what he described as tense, angry text messages between the pair in the hours before Redding’s death, but Judge Kathleen Kennedy denied his motions to bring that defense to the jury, saying there was no evidence linking him to the crime.
“Mere opportunity or motive is not sufficient,” Kennedy said before the jury entered. “There must be a nexus of the two.”
The District Attorney’s Office believes it found such an overlap in Park, a woman the prosecution has fingered as a real estate broker and financial assistant who moonlighted as an enforcer for Munir Uwaydah, a wealthy doctor with whom Redding had a relationship that she broke off in late 2007. Uwaydah was reportedly involved in a business deal with Redding’s father, who later backed out of it due to concerns that the business was not operating legally.
On the night of the murder, a 911 call was made from Redding’s cell phone at 9:52 p.m. that never made it through, and although a neighbor reported hearing a commotion in the adjacent apartment at 9:53 p.m., the police were not called.
Redding’s body was found the next day after her mother, worried that her daughter had missed a photo shoot, asked the Santa Monica Police Department to stop by the apartment on the 1500 block of Centinela Avenue.
DNA evidence found on six objects including Redding’s neck, cell phone and the right front stove knob which had been left on suggested that the same female had left traces all over Redding’s apartment. Samples taken from Park matched that and a single bloody fingerprint found at the scene, Okun-Wiese said.
The investigation, which spanned almost two years, eliminated more than 40 potential female suspects before suspicion fell on Park, who was “dispatched” by Uwaydah to “confront and intimidate” Redding on the day of her death, according to court documents.
That occurred on March 15, five days after Redding’s father, a pharmacist in Arizona, had formally rejected Uwaydah’s offer to take over operations of Golden State Pharmacy in Camarillo, Calif.
The two had gone back and forth in negotiations over the position, which was ultimately supposed to pay almost $400,000 in base salary in addition to bonuses based on the production of a pain-killing cream that Uwaydah wanted Greg Redding to make with him, the father testified Wednesday.
Greg Redding ultimately rejected the offer, partially on concerns that the pharmacy did not have the appropriate licenses to produce the cream.
Negotiations between the two had broken down once before at the end of 2007 when Greg Redding approached his daughter just before her 21st birthday with information that Uwaydah might be married, have children and be lying about his age, the father testified.
Buehler does not expect to have witnesses take the stand for a few weeks, and intends to go to the Court of Appeal to stop the proceeding until the higher court can review the evidence he wished to submit to the jury regarding Redding’s other ex.
“I’m not happy with the judge’s ruling,” Buehler said. “It hurts a lot.”