DOWNTOWN — A woman who was found not guilty last year for the murder of an aspiring model found strangled to death in her Santa Monica apartment filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the lead detective in the case, saying she intimidated witnesses and damaged the woman’s reputation.
Kelly Soo Park, 48, alleges three witnesses who were considering testifying in her defense were scared off or had their reputations sullied by Santa Monica Police Detective Karen Thompson, who received a commendation from the SMPD for her work on the case.
Thompson’s actions prevented Park from presenting testimony at her trial that she claims would have identified the real killer, an ex-boyfriend of the victim, 21-year-old Juliana Redding, according to the complaint.
Park believes that testimony would have also helped restore her reputation as a upstanding businesswoman with no criminal history. Instead, she was portrayed in the media, including a segment of CBS’ “48 Hours,” as a cold-blooded killer acting as an enforcer on behalf of a wealthy doctor who had a falling out with Redding’s father.
“This is not how our justice system is supposed to work,” said Park’s attorney, Ron Kaye. “Gratefully Kelly Park was acquitted and the jury saw through the prosecution’s case, but to this day the media and others are portraying her with getting away with murder. This lawsuit demonstrates that that picture is false.”
The lawsuit does not specify the amount of money Park is seeking. Currently Thompson is the only person named, but the SMPD and City Hall could be included at a later date. As of Wednesday afternoon, city officials had not been served with the lawsuit. City officials declined to comment.
When Park was brought to trial on the murder charges last summer prosecutors said she went to Redding’s apartment on Centinela Avenue in March 2008 and strangled her with her bare hands. They suspected Park was acting on behalf of a doctor who once dated Redding and wanted the girl to convince her father to not back out of a business deal the two were involved in. The doctor was never charged and his whereabouts are unknown.
That theory was not allowed to be presented at trial.
Jurors did hear evidence that Park’s DNA was found on Redding’s neck and elsewhere in her apartment. That proved to be the key piece of evidence, however, an expert testified that the DNA could have been spread by a third party.
Park’s defense attorneys said the DNA could have been transferred by the killer when he or she wiped down the apartment to rid the crime scene of any fingerprints or DNA. Defense witnesses also said items in Redding’s apartment had come from another home frequented by Park, explaining why a plate found in Redding’s sink contained Park’s fingerprint.
Park, who co-owns a restaurant, alleges in the lawsuit that she’s entitled to damages because despite being freed she’s suffered from “extreme and severe mental anguish” as a result of Thompson and other unidentified police officers interfering with her ability to present “the most complete defense.”
Kaye said his client’s business has suffered because of the negative publicity.
“We hope she can reclaim her reputation and that she can somehow resume a normal life that she had prior to these charges being filed against her,” Kaye said.
Melissa Ayala, who dated Redding’s ex-boyfriend, John Gilmore, after the murder, was allegedly prepared to testify that she was choked by Gilmore three times. According to the lawsuit, one time he said, “You want to see how she [Juliana] felt?”
Thompson knew of Gilmore’s violent history and that his alibi for the murder was weak, but didn’t pursue him further as a suspect, Park alleges in the lawsuit.
When Thompson learned that Ayala was contacted by investigators hired by Park’s attorneys and was considering testifying, she allegedly called Ayala and convinced her not to, saying during the recorded conversation that Gilmore was “not the killer.”
The detective, according to the lawsuit, also said that Gilmore, who had pleaded guilty to assaulting Ayala, was “upset” by her plan to testify, and advised her that she did not have to testify if she did not want to.
At that point, Ayala interjected, “I just don’t — I don’t — I don’t want to hurt John in any way.”
Ayala eventually invoked her right not to testify, granted by the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that Thompson had Park’s then boyfriend arrested in Ventura so that she could “twist” him “to see if we can flip him.”
Park also alleges Thompson tried to soil the reputation of Park’s then fianc√© and now husband, a former commander with the Oxnard Police Department. The detective allegedly called his colleagues there in hopes that this would somehow weaken his credibility when he testified on behalf of Park as a character witness.
A year before Park’s trial, the SMPD rewarded Thompson with a Medal of Merit for solving the cold case while working on it during her own time.
Park believes Thompson did not want that honor undermined and that was the basis for her actions during the investigation.