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Category: South Bay

Chef who killed wife, then cooked body to be sentenced

 David Viens, a former Lomita restaurant owner, was convicted of second-degree murder involving the October 2009 disappearance of his wife on Nov. 27, 2012. Credit:  Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County prosecutors have asked a judge to sentence David Viens, the chef who told authorities that he accidentally killed his wife and cooked her body to dispose of it, to 15 years to life in prison.

Viens, who is scheduled to be sentenced Friday, was convicted last year of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Dawn. He has since fired his attorney and filed a motion for a new trial, which Superior Court Judge Rand S. Rubin is also scheduled to hear Friday.

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors called Viens "a liar and a manipulator" and said he had a history of narcotics-related crimes before the 2009 slaying.

While living in Vermont, prosecutors said in court papers, Viens was convicted in 2003 of a federal drug-related charge. Instead of reporting to serve a four-month sentence, he fled to Mexico, prosecutors said. He eventually surrendered. In 2005, he was convicted in Florida on a federal marijuana charge, according to court papers.

In October 2009, Viens' 39-year-old wife vanished. Her body has never been found, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Deborah Brazil suggested that was because Viens wanted to conceal how she was killed. Testimony painted their marriage as disintegrating, with Dawn Viens telling one friend her husband had choked her and David Viens telling another friend he wanted to "kill that bitch."

Shortly after his wife disappeared, David Viens started dating a 23-year-old waitress who worked at his Lomita restaurant, Thyme Contemporary Café. He told friends and police that his wife had run off. He also sent fake text messages from his wife's phone to her friends, prosecutors said, one of which said she was in Florida.

But Dawn Viens' sister, Dayna Papin, suspected that something was awry. She filed a missing-person report.

In February 2011, when David Viens learned that investigators suspected he'd played a role in his wife's disappearance, he leaped off an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes. From his hospital bed, Viens gave a dramatic recorded confession to investigators.

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Senior LAUSD officials knew of child abuse claims, lawyers say

Robert Pimentel appears at his arraignment in January in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Credit: Jeff Gritchen /Getty Images

Senior LAUSD officials were allegedly aware of parent complaints in 2009 about a Wilmington teacher who was charged in January with abusing children over an extended period of time, say attorneys who represent alleged victims.

The latest allegations concern the case of Robert Pimentel, 57, who has been charged with molesting 12 students at De La Torre Elementary School. Pimentel has pleaded not guilty.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials had previously acknowledged Pimentel’s principal was aware of allegations in 2002 and 2008. The principal’s alleged failure to act was cited as reason for her removal by L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. Both Pimental and Principal Irene L. Hinojosa resigned as the district was preparing to fire them.

The superintendent said in January that he did not know whether allegations against Pimental went higher than the principal.

On Thursday, attorneys alleged the allegations reached senior officials, namely Holly Priebe-Diaz, a veteran district mediator, and Linda Del Cueto, who oversees instructional programs in the San Fernando Valley. In 2009, she was one of eight top regional administrators across the nation’s second-largest school system.

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SoCal Edison to pay $4 million to woman injured by stray currents

A jury has granted $4 million to a woman who alleged she was injured by stray electrical currents running through her Redondo Beach home that sits next to a Southern California Edison substation, her attorneys said Tuesday.

Simona Wilson discovered the current when she felt it on her shower head, according to her attorneys. In a three-week jury trial, she claimed stray voltage at the home she shared with her three children caused nerve damage that developed into a condition called erythromelalgia.

Her attorneys said evidence showed that Edison had previously owned Wilson’s home on Knob Hill Avenue, and had received complaints from tenants as early as the 1980s that they were getting shocked. Edison did not disclose the history when they sold the home, according to Wilson’s attorneys, Lars C. Johnson and Brian Hong.

Edison representatives said in a statement that it presented "considerable engineering and other testimony during the trial that refuted the claims made by Wilson."

In its verdict Monday, the panel unanimously found that Edison had caused a nuisance at Wilson’s home, voted 10 to 2 in finding Edison negligent, and 9 to 3 for punitive damages, according to Wilson's attorneys. Jurors awarded $1,050,000 for Wilson’s injuries and $3 million in punitive damages, they said.

Edison said it was "disappointed" by the verdict and said the decision was "inconsistent with the totality of the evidence presented at trial." Edison "believes its response to the concerns raised by Wilson regarding her home located near SCE’s Topaz Substation and its efforts to address those concerns were appropriate," representatives said in the statement.

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Bell corruption trial: Still no verdict after 17 days

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-- Victoria Kim

Police: Crew stole $3 million in gear from Apple, other stores

Torrance Police have arrested four family members of a Chicago-based shoplifting crew believed to be responsible for dozens of thefts nationwide.

The four family members were arrested this week after they arrived in Southern California to appear in a Santa Monica court on shoplifting charges. Torrance undercover detectives identified the group after a theft in the city and then conducted a surveillance operation.

Investigators watched as they allegedly shoplifted items from Apple stores throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Torrance Sgt. Robert Watt said the crew would enter a business while some distracted the staff and acted as a barrier. The women would slip the items -- typically hard drives -- into their baggy clothes.

The four arrested were identified as Ausra Bauzinskaite, 34, Adeliya Nassybullina, 30, Lukasz Karasinski, 37, and  Przemyslaw Skiba, 31. They described themselves as a "Polish gypsy family" to investigators. A fifth person involved in the scheme was deported by immigration.

They are believed to be responsible for stealing from the Mac Mall in Torrance and 17 other locations across Los Angeles County and Orange County. They say they committed the thefts in order to pay off a $2-million debt their family had incurred several years before.

Detectives believe in three years, the family has snatched about $3 million in merchandise from small technology stores and massive retailers.

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Former USC student wins Supreme Court copyright decision

-- Richard Winton

Dorner case: Women shot at by LAPD could get $40,000 payment soon

Two women whose truck was riddled by police gunfire during the pursuit of fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner could get a $40,000 cash settlement to replace their vehicle within the next few days, officials say.

It remains to be determined how much additional compensation they will receive for the incident.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and the women's attorney, Glen Jonas, stressed Thursday that the deal to compensate the women for the loss of the truck is separate from any discussions regarding potential litigation involving the LAPD shooting incident in Torrance.

PHOTOS: Manhunt for ex-LAPD officer

“Now that we resolved the issue of the truck, we can now move forward in this matter in an attempt to resolve the other issues in this case related to personal injury aspects,” Trutanich said.

Jonas said he’s optimistic that an agreement can be reached in those matters.

“If we can come to an agreement on the value regarding the damages suffered, then the case can be resolved,” Jonas said. “I’m hopeful that we can do that based on the fact that we were able to work out this issue.”

In addition to the payment, Jonas has agreed to waive $25,000 in attorney fees.

FULL COVERAGE: Sweeping manhunt for ex-cop

The agreement comes several weeks after the women were promised a new truck -- and two days after they publicly complained through Jonas that they had not received a new vehicle.

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Video: Hitchhiking sea lion hops aboard South Bay kayak

A man ending a night dive off the coast of the South Bay said he got quite a surprise recently when an insistent sea lion pup hopped aboard his kayak and refused to leave.

Rick Coleman said he surfaced from his dive and was surprised by the sea lion.

At one point, he said he nudged the stubborn sea lion off with an oar. Seconds later, it hopped back on.

Coleman thought the pup might have been cold - or escaping a shark in the area. He paddled back to shore with the sea lion on board. When Coleman got back to the beach, the sea lion hopped off and went to rest on some rocks nearby.

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Suspects sought in Rancho Palos Verdes home invasion robbery

LAUSD to pay Miramonte victims $30 million; teacher due in court

-- KTLA News

LAUSD to pay Miramonte victims $30 million; teacher due in court

Now that the Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to a $30-million settlement in the Miramonte Elementary School case, the teacher accused of lewd acts against dozens of children is set to appear in court next month.

Mark Berndt, 61, faces 23 felony counts of lewd conduct involving the alleged spoon-feeding of semen to students that were blindfolded and the placement of cockroaches on their faces.

Berndt has been in custody since his arrest in February 2012 and is being held in lieu of $23 million bail. Detectives had been investigating the alleged abuse for more than a year after a drugstore photo processor showed police disturbing images of blindfolded and gagged children being spoon-fed a liquid.

FULL COVERAGE: Teacher sex-abuse investigations

The alleged victims were boys and girls between 7 and 10 years old. Berndt had been teaching in the district since 1979 and was respected by parents of former students. Nearly 200 legal claims have been filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District by parents in the wake of Berndt’s arrest.

On Tuesday, lawyers representing parents in 58 of those claims announced a $30-million settlement with LAUSD. The mediation lasted about six months and involved more than a dozen law firms.

Attorneys said they wanted to spare children painful litigation and testimony.

PHOTOS: Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims

The settlements are the first in a case that rocked the nation's second-largest school system and prompted a flurry of new policies to better protect students. Each of the alleged victims will receive about $470,000 under the preliminary deal. It is the largest payout in a case involving a single teacher in the district.

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Suspects sought in Rancho Palos Verdes home invasion robbery

Police are investigating a Rancho Palos Verdes home invasion robbery in which the intruders ransacked a house with three residents inside for nearly three hours.

Two suspects knocked on the door of the home in the 4200 block of Miraleste Drive about 8 p.m. Tuesday and forced their way inside, investigators said.

A man, his wife and their daughter were home at the time and were apparently forced into a back bedroom, KTLA-TV reported. Then the suspects then spent several hours ransacking the house, taking an unknown amount of money. It was unclear if anything else was stolen, police said.

The man was able to get to a neighbor’s house to call police around 10:30 p.m. when they no longer heard any noise. None of the residents was injured in the robbery.

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-- From a Times staff writer

O.C. marine mammal center nears capacity after sea lion influx

PHOTOS: Caring for sea lion pups

Orange County’s only marine mammal care center this week declared a state of emergency, saying it is nearing capacity while caring for an influx of malnourished and dehydrated sea lion pups coming ashore.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach over the weekend admitted 18 sea lions. Twelve came in Saturday, the largest single-day total in the center's 42-year history, according to a news release.

As of Sunday, the center had 86 animals in its care, 84 of them sea lions.

PHOTOS: Caring for sea lion pups

"The last time the center received this many sea lions this early in the season was 1998," said Melissa Sciacca, director of development at the nonprofit center.

Most of the malnourished or dehydrated animals are 8 to 9 months old, Sciacca said.

Los Angeles County is also seeing an increase in admitted sea lion pups.

Officials at the Laguna Beach center and Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro could not speculate what may be responsible for the recent sea lion surge.

"We're a hospital," Sciacca said. "Our job is to get the animal home. Often the answers aren't found until the event is over and we're getting a bigger picture."

The Fort MacArthur center is Los Angeles County’s only marine mammal facility and is experiencing a similar surge in admitted sea lion pups. The center has taken in more than 280 animals since the beginning of the year, director David Bard said.

He said the center typically sees 300 to 500 animals a year.

"Biologists have noted an increase in sea lion pup births and a decrease in the weight of those pups," Bard said.

Resources for treating the sea lions are slim with the influx. Space is at a premium at the Laguna center while money is needed for medicine, food and vehicle transportation to and from beaches.

Pacific Marine Mammal Center has two rescue trucks with specialized crates to house the animals en route to the center, Sciacca said.

ALSO:

Bell corruption trial: Illness forces jurors to be sent home

California earthquake: Hundreds of aftershocks, more expected

Four arrested after motorcycle marriage proposal on 10 Freeway

-- Bryce Alderton, Times Community News

Photo: A California sea lion pup recovers Feb. 14 in Laguna Beach. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Measures on Carson mayor, Redondo Beach power plant losing

Carson Mayor Jim Dear

Unofficial election results showed a measure intended to oust Carson's longtime mayor losing by a wide margin, while an initiative in Redondo Beach that would have shut down a power plant there appeared headed for a narrow defeat.

In Carson, Measure M would have switched the mayor's seat from a directly elected post to one appointed by the council on a rotating basis.

The initiative appeared to be a bid to oust Mayor Jim Dear, who has been on the council for 12 years and mayor since 2004. He also fought off a challenge in the election from Councilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes.

PHOTOS: Los Angeles voters go to the polls

With all precincts and vote-by-mail ballots counted, the measure was losing 83.2% to 16.8%.

Dear has drawn fire from residents and a rebuke from the Los Angeles County district attorney in recent years over his use of a mute button to silence unruly public speakers -- or, some said, to cut off his critics. He survived a recall election in 2008 launched by residents who said he was too cozy with developers.

Reached by telephone, Dear called Measure M a "power grab" by three members of the council. He pointed to the measure's defeat and his reelection as "a mandate for growth and progress and job creation and improvement in the city."

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

 "Measure M was a distraction and an attempt to confuse the voters," he said.

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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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