SANTA MONICA—Real estate broker Kelly Soo Park, who was acquitted of murder in 2008, is suing a Santa Monica police detective who allegedly dissuaded a defense witness from testifying during the trial, according to a 2 to 1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, March 14.
College student and model Juliana Redding, 21, was found strangled to death in her Santa Monica apartment, located on the 1500 block of Centinela Avenue, on March 15, 2008. Park was arrested in 2010 when investigators found her DNA in the victim’s home and on her body. Redding’s body was covered in scratches and bruises and believed to have been dragged across the floor, authorities noted. She was held in lieu of $18.5 million bail. In June 2013, Park was acquitted of the murder charge. Defense Attorney George Bueller argued that the DNA evidence was inconclusive, on the grounds that the transfer of genetic material could have happened before the murder or through a third party.
Park, who now faces fraud charges in a separate case, is alleging that SMPD Detective Karen Thompson dissuaded a defense witness from testifying during the murder trial– a lawsuit that had previously been dismissed by U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in 2013.
The lawsuit contends that witness Melissa Ayala’s testimony would have implicated the victim’s boyfriend, John Gilmore, as the killer, on the grounds that he had a history of domestic violence and had previously assaulted her. It alleges that Ayala, Gilmore’s former girlfriend, intended to testify that he had choked her on three separate occasions and mentioned Redding’s murder during one of the incidents. She invoked her Fifth Amendment right only after Thompson had intimidated her, the suit stated.
“Park was deprived of her principal and apparently sole defense—that a third party was guilty of the murder—due to Thompson’s alleged interference with Ayala’s testimony,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt for the majority of the panel.
Prosecutors argued that Gilmore had been ruled out as a suspect, and contended that Park had killed Redding at the request of Dr. Munir Uwaydah, who was once romantically involved with the victim. According to prosecutors, Uwaydah allegedly made six-figure payments to Park before the murder, referring to her as a “female James Bond.” Redding was killed five days after a failed business negotiation between Uwaydah and Redding’s father, Gred Redding, an Arizona pharmacist. The attack on the victim was believed to have been an attempt to intimidate her father.
Uwaydah, an orthopedic surgeon, and Park were charged in 2015 as participants of a health fraud scheme, which involved operations on patients by an untrained assistant. Attorneys and other doctors illegally referred patients to Uwaydah, the ringleader of the scheme. False evaluations and records were documented to justify the surgeries, and more than $150 billion was fraudulently billed to insurance companies.
Nearly two dozen patients suffered from this scheme. Uwaydah, Park, and nine other defendants were charged with conspiracy, insurance fraud, aggravated mayhem, and illegal patient referrals. Uwaydah was not charged in Redding’s death and has denied any involvement.
According to Park’s attorney, Ron Kaye, the reinstatement of the lawsuit will show the world “what was hidden from the jury’s view.” It is up to the district judge to decide whether Thompson has immunity from the lawsuit.