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Chef who said he cooked dead wife’s body tries to fire lawyer

September 20, 2012 |  2:13 pm

The chef who told authorities he accidentally killed his wife and then cooked her body to dispose of it, tried to get rid of his attorney Thursday and represent himself.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rand S. Rubin rejected David Viens' request, which was made outside the jury's presence and before the defense's last witness testified. Rubin said Viens' attorney, Fred McCurry, had represented him competently and that it was too late in the proceedings for Viens to take over his defense.

Viens, 49, told the judge he was "afraid" to represent himself and needed help figuring out how to prepare witnesses and build exhibits. But, Viens said, he felt like he had no choice because he and McCurry disagreed on trial tactics.

Viens was clearly still smarting from the judge's decision after testimony wrapped up Thursday morning. When McCurry indicated that the defense had no more evidence to present, Viens, who has appeared in court in a wheelchair during the six-day trial, stood up in front of the jury and said: "Your honor, I object!"

Viens is accused of murdering his wife, Dawn, who was 39 when she vanished in October 2009. After Viens learned in February 2011 that investigators suspected he'd played a role in her disappearance, he leaped off an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes — feet first, arms raised, screaming.

From his hospital bed, Viens spoke twice to sheriff's investigators. In both interviews, he admitted to accidentally killing his wife -- something he'd also told his daughter and ex-girlfriend, who both testified for the prosecution.

Prosecutors have no physical evidence of what happened to Dawn Viens, but her husband said in the interviews that he taped her mouth and bound her hands and feet with duct tape, then went to sleep. When he awoke, he said, she was dead. Viens' daughter said that he told her that her stepmother choked on her own vomit.

On Thursday, defense expert Dr. Marvin Pietruszka testified about the possible side effects of Ambien, a prescription sleep aid that Viens told investigators he took the night his wife died. Pietruszka said that, in certain cases, Ambien has caused delusions and hallucinations.

In the second interview with investigators, Viens described why authorities never found Dawn Viens' body. He said he packed it into a large drum of boiling water, held it down with weights and simmered it over four days. Then, he said, he mixed much of what remained with other waste and poured it into the grease pit at his Lomita restaurant, Thyme Contemporary Café.

Viens said he packed other remains into garbage bags and chucked them in a trash bin and stashed his wife's skull in his mother's attic. When authorities searched there, however, they found nothing.

Pietruszka testified that the cocktail of drugs Viens was taking during the second interview could have impaired his memory.

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-- Ashley Powers

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