SAN DIEGO (CN) – A jury of two women and five men awarded the widow of a crime lab worker implicated in a cold-case murder investigation $6 million Friday for injuries caused to the family by a San Diego Police Department detective’s investigation.
Attorney Eugene Iredale leaned over and kissed his client Rebecca Brown on the cheek after they learned the verdict reached by the jury in U.S. District Dana Sabraw’s courtroom after less than a day of deliberations.
Iredale had suggested the jurors award Brown $12 million during his closing arguments Thursday.
Brown sued SDPD detectives Michael Lambert and Maura Mekenas-Parga for their involvement in the 2014 execution of a search warrant on the Brown’s family home after Kevin Brown’s semen turned up on retested evidence from the cold-case murder and sexual assault of 14-year-old Claire Hough.
Lambert said enough of Brown’s sperm cells were found that it had to be investigated. It showed up along with 13 blood spots on Hough’s jeans and underwear – along with a public hair and “touch DNA” – from convicted rapist Ronald Tatro.
Lambert was trying to find out if the two men were somehow connected.
Until recently, crime lab workers used their own semen samples as controls when mixing chemicals to test evidence. During a taped interview between Brown and Lambert shown at trial, Brown said it had to be contamination but didn’t tell Lambert explicitly that his own semen was used in the lab.
Lambert said he did not learn of the lab practice until he interviewed Rebecca Brown’s family members a month before Kevin Brown’s death in October 2014. He testified he was “shocked.”
The affidavit Lambert worked on for a year did not mention the possibility of contamination even though the SDPD lab workers who testified during trial said they never would have ruled it out. Nor did the affidavit mention that sperm cells were not initially found on the swabs obtained by the medical examiner in 1984.
Jurors found the seizure of 14 boxes of the family’s mementos outside the scope of the warrant caused damages to the Browns, awarding $250,000 to Rebecca Brown and $2.75 million to the Estate of Kevin Brown for the injuries they suffered.
The jury also awarded $3 million to Rebecca Brown for the loss of her husband’s companionship.
Throughout the trial Brown’s attorney Iredale used the physical seized evidence as props during his questioning and argument to point out the personal items including religious items and a Holy Bible, up to 30,000 family photos and school materials, including copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence should have never been seized.
While jurors didn’t find the seizure of the physical items, including address books and diaries caused injury to the Browns, they did find the seizure lacked probable cause and the affidavit drafted by Lambert contained misrepresentations.
Lambert was asked to provide financial statements to the court by Monday. The punitive damages phase of the trial will begin Tuesday morning.
The jurors and attorneys for the parties were admonished by the court not to speak to the media about the case until the punitive damages phase of the trial is complete.