A Santa Monica murder trial so sensational it was featured as an hour-long special on 48 Hours is back in the headlines.
This week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the woman acquitted of a young model’s murder can sue detectives with the Santa Monica Police Department for violating her right to a fair trial.
Kelly Soo Park was acquitted by a jury in 2013 of the 2008 murder of Juliana Redding. Redding, a Santa Monica College student and aspiring model and actress, was found beaten and strangled to death in a Santa Monica bungalow. When detectives first entered Redding’s home, the gas was on and the suspect had left a burning candle, presumably to blow up the bungalow on Centinela Avenue.
The lead investigator, Detective Karen Thompson, eventually matched DNA found in the bungalow and on the victim’s neck to Park. Despite the fact the two women had never met, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office eventually charged Park with her murder.
But before she faced a jury, Park sought to introduce evidence that Redding’s murderer was actually her boyfriend at the time of her death, John Gilmore. At first, another one of Gilmore’s former girlfriends agreed to give crucial testimony in Park’s defense.
The girlfriend, Melissa Ayala, allegedly told an investigator hired by Park that Gilmore had turned violent one night after she brought up Redding’s death.
Gilmore allegedly asked, “You want to see how she felt?” when he choked Ayala the first of three times. Gilmore was eventually convicted of domestic violence against Ayala.
But investigators thought Gilmore had a solid alibi.
Detective Thompson allegedly contacted Ayala before the trial, telling her the ex-boyfriend was “really upset” about her statements. In her lawsuit, Park alleged Thompson knowingly made false representations to Ayala about the nature of the evidence against herself, urging Ayala to avoid testifying by saying “you’re not under any obligation to do anything.”
After the conversation, Ayala backed out of testifying. Because she withdrew, the trial judge said Park’s attorney could not present any evidence that someone else committed the murder, according to court documents filed in the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, 9th Circuit Court judges ruled the fact Park was eventually acquitted did not bar her from suing over violations of her rights during the underlying criminal investigation and prosecution. The judges concluded Ayala’s potential testimony would have cast some doubt on the evidence against Park during the trial.
The Santa Monica Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Park and the victim did not know each other but were connected by Park’s employer, Dr. Munir Uwaydah, another former boyfriend of Redding who fled the country before the trial. The prosecution said Redding’s father had broken off a business deal with Uwaydah five days before the murder and characterized Park as an enforcer who was sent to “confront and intimidate” the young model on the day of her death. Despite the DNA evidence linking Park to the scene, the jury found it was not enough to put Park behind bars.
Since her acquittal, Park has been indicted in a $150 million insurance fraud scam that also involves Uwaydah and several other associates. The doctor is still at large and Park is out on bail.