Cleared of Murder, Woman Sues Detective
LOS ANGELES (CN) - Kelly Soo Park, acquitted of the high-profile murder of an aspiring actress, sued the lead detective, claiming she accepted an award for "solving" the case years before the trial, and intimidated defense witnesses to seek conviction.
In her federal lawsuit, Park claims that Santa Monica police Det. Karen Thompson received the Medal of Merit for "solving" the 2008 murder of Juliana Redding - a former Maxim model - by pointing to Park as the killer.
"Far from acting as an impartial law enforcement officer, defendant Thompson's bias against plaintiff, her resulting commitment to having plaintiff found guilty at trial at all costs, and her need to justify the Medal of Merit already awarded to her for 'solving' this case, caused defendant Thompson to interfere with plaintiff's presentation of evidence in support of her criminal defense," Park says in the lawsuit.
Redding was strangled in her Santa Monica home in March 2008. After the investigation went cold, Thompson received permission from the Santa Monica Police Department to investigate the case on her own time, according to the complaint.
In 2010, Thompson matched DNA found on Redding's body to Park, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged Park with the murder, Park says in the complaint.
"In September 2011, a year and a half before the trial commenced, and during the ongoing investigation, defendant Thompson was awarded a Medal of Merit by the Santa Monica Police Department for 'solving' the murder of Ms. Redding by matching DNA found on Ms. Redding's body to plaintiff," the complaint states.
At the time, prosecutors said that Juliana Redding's father, Greg Redding, had backed out of a business deal with Dr. Munir Uwaydah, who sent Park to persuade Juliana to get her dad back on board. Prosecutors claimed Park strangled Redding during the confrontation, according to news articles from the time.
Park claims in her lawsuit that Thompson refused to properly investigate the possibility that Juliana Redding's boyfriend, John Gilmore, was the killer. He had a history of domestic violence, had previously assaulted Redding, and "had a history of breaking into and destroying property in Ms. Redding's home, including the day before Ms. Redding was murdered," Park claims.
"Despite this information, defendant Thompson persisted on pursuing plaintiff as the sole suspect of the crime," Park says in the complaint.
Gilmore's alibi for the night of the murder - that he was at a party until 12:30 or 1 a.m. and left with friends - was refuted by text messages revealing that he had actually left the party at 10:30 p.m., according to the complaint.
Park says that her investigator met with the girl Gilmore dated after Redding's death, Melissa Ayala, who said that Gilmore had choked her on at least three occasions.
"On the first of these occasions, prior to his choking of Ms. Ayala, Mr. Gilmore stated: 'You want to see how she [Juliana] felt?' This threat occurred during a conversation in which Ms. Ayala had brought up Ms. Redding's death. On the second occasion, while choking Ms. Ayala, Mr. Gilmore stated that he was: 'Going to show you how [Juliana] felt.'" (Brackets in complaint.)
Gilmore was convicted of a domestic violence offense for choking Ayala and had been violent toward her a number of other times, Park claims. Ayala agreed to testify for the defense about Gilmore at Park's trial.
After learning that Park intended to call Ayala as a witness, Thompson intervened to persuade Ayala not to take the stand, Park claims.
"Thompson presented false evidence to Ms. Ayala, caused Ms. Ayala to fear that her boyfriend, John Gilmore, was a threat to her safety, and accused plaintiff's defense team of acting unethically and in support of getting a 'guilty' person - plaintiff - 'off' from the pending murder charges," according to the complaint.
Park claims Thompson made these statements, and others, to Ayala in recorded conversations:
"And first, what I want to tell you is that John [Gilmore] is not the killer."
"But I don't think that [John Gilmore] is a bad person and I never - I certainly don't think he committed this murder."
"... they're [plaintiff's investigators] going to tell every lie they can to try and get her off."
"What we are anticipating is that they're [plaintiff's investigators] gonna try to blame this all on John [Gilmore] ... Don't believe what they're saying."
"John [Gilmore] was really upset about the whole thing because he - he feels like they just made you lose faith in him, I guess."
After talking to Thompson, Ayala changed her mind about testifying for the defense and refused any further contact with Park's investigators, according to the complaint.
Park also accuses Thompson of preventing testimony from two other potential defense witnesses.
Concerned that Ronnie Case, an associate of Park's, might present alibi testimony, Thompson played "an integral part" in having him arrested in connection with Redding's murder, according to the lawsuit.
"Thompson sent an email to other law enforcement officers in which she admits that her motive in having Mr. Case arrested in Ventura County was to 'twist him [Mr. Case] a little to see if we can flip him (with some immunity) [against plaintiff]. I hope [Mr. Case] has harsh feelings toward the lovely Ms. Park,'" according to the complaint. (Parentheses and brackets in complaint.)
Thompson also tried to sully the reputation of Park's then-fiancé, now husband, Thomas Chronister, a retired commander with the City of Oxnard Police Department, so that his usefulness as a character witness for Park would be undermined, according to the complaint.
Park was acquitted of all criminal charges for Juliana Redding's murder on June 4, 2013.
"Plaintiff, despite being acquitted of all charges, continues to be branded a murderer. Without being able to provide her full defense at the time - a defense which included the testimony of Melissa Ayala - plaintiff's defense was limited, and although she was ultimately acquitted, only a part of the story was told at trial," Park says in the complaint.
Post-trial news coverage portrayed Park "as essentially 'getting away with murder,'" she says in the lawsuit.
"Ms. Park's trial, referred to as a 'Hollywood whodunit,' garnered wide media attention because 'these were two beautiful women who had never been in trouble before,' according to some journalists. A recent '48 Hours' feature story has perpetuated the interest in this case despite its closure last June," Park's attorneys at Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt said in a statement.
"Damages include those to Ms. Park's reputation, income and the impact it has had on the lauded career of her husband," the attorneys said.
Park seeks punitive damages for violation of compulsory process and right to a fair trial and joint action/conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.
She is represented by Ronald Kaye, of Pasadena.
Neither the Santa Monica Police Department, which is not named as a defendant, nor Thompson immediately returned a request for comment.