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'There's no happy ending,' sister of chef's victim says

September 28, 2012 |  9:17 am

When the jury announced its guilty verdict against David Viens, the Lomita chef who killed his wife and boiled her body, the victim’s sister buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

Dayna Papin had sat through all eight days of the sometimes-graphic trial, wearing a yellow butterfly pin in memory of her sister, Dawn Viens.

"There's no happy ending. I don't think there [are] any winners or losers," she said Thursday. "Two families have suffered tremendously and we will continue to."

It took only 5 1/2 hours of deliberations for a jury to convict David Viens, 49, who remained stone-faced as the verdict was read Thursday. He faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in November.

His attorney, Fred McCurry, had argued that Dawn Viens' death was an accident and the story of her disposal was a work of fiction. McCurry declined to comment after the verdict was announced.

Dawn Viens, whom friends remembered as outgoing, was 39 when she disappeared nearly three years ago. Her body has never been found, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Deborah Brazil suggested that was because her husband wanted to conceal how she was killed.

One of the couple's friends, Karen Patterson, who testified for the prosecution, told reporters through tears that the week before Dawn Viens died, "Dawn told me he loved her so much and he would never hurt her."

Instead, Patterson said, "He treated her — literally — like a piece of meat and got rid of her."

Juror Tal Erickson said some members of the panel considered convicting Viens of first-degree murder, as the prosecution had sought. But, he said, jurors ultimately decided to accept Viens' story that he never intended to kill his wife.

The prosecution portrayed Viens as an abusive husband who appeared to care little about the disappearance of the woman with whom he had spent 17 years. Patterson testified that in August 2009, when she asked Dawn Viens about marks on her neck, Dawn replied that her husband had choked her.

The next month, Patterson said, her friend called and said she had locked herself in the bathroom to keep her enraged husband at bay. Patterson wanted to call the police. Dawn Viens begged her not to.

"For the rest of my life, I'll wish I would have called," Patterson said Thursday.

On the night of Oct. 18, 2009, according to the couple's friend Todd Stagnitto, Viens was convinced that his wife had been stealing money from their restaurant. "I'll kill that [woman]," Stagnitto quoted him as saying.

Within hours, both sides said, Dawn Viens was dead. In the defense's telling, Viens duct-taped his wife's mouth and bound her hands and feet, as he had done at least twice before to silence her histrionics. Then Viens fell asleep.

Hours later, "I woke up. I panicked," he told investigators. Why? "She was hard."

Convinced that no one would believe the death was an accident, the defense attorney said, Viens tossed the body into a Dumpster at his Lomita restaurant, Thyme Contemporary Cafe.

This version dovetailed with what Viens told his daughter and former girlfriend, both of whom testified for the prosecution, and what he initially told authorities. But, in a second interview, Viens gave them a far more jarring account of what happened to his wife's 105-pound body.

"I cooked her four days, I let her cool, I strained it out," he said.

Some of the mixture ended up in the grease trap, he said, while other remains were tossed in the trash. Though Viens told authorities that he stashed his wife's skull in his mother's attic, he added that he was "confused ... because of these dreams and stuff I've had."

Authorities never found the skull, and a defense expert intimated that the cocktail of drugs that doctors gave Viens could have impaired his memory. McCurry dismissed the cooking story as too fantastic to believe.

"Is it even feasible to boil a body in water?" he asked.

The method Viens told authorities he used to get rid of his wife's body — though gruesome enough to keep some jurors awake at night — wasn't the overriding factor in the jury's decision, Erickson said. "I would think about it and ask, 'Why?'"

-- Ashley Powers