Anthony Rauda trial: Closing arguments begin for 2018 murder of scientist killed at Malibu Creek State Park
Jurors are set to hear closing arguments Monday in the trial of a man charged with murdering a research scientist who was shot while camping with his two young daughters in a tent at Malibu Creek State Park nearly five years ago.
Anthony Rauda, now 46, is facing a murder charge stemming from the June 22, 2018, killing of Tristan Beaudette, along with attempted murder charges involving a series of early morning shootings typically between 3 and 5 a.m, including one in which a man who had been sleeping in a hammock initially thought he had been bitten in the arm by an animal.
The defendant is also facing five counts of second-degree commercial burglary involving a series of break-ins, including two at the Calabasas Community Center and two at the Las Virgenes Water District facility between July and October 2018, that primarily involved food that was taken from the facilities.
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Deputy District Attorney Antonella Nistorescu told jurors in her opening statement earlier this month that Rauda was linked to the "menacing" series of crimes, including Beaudette's killing.
After the last break-in, Rauda was tracked down through bootprints and a scent dog to a makeshift encampment, where he was found dressed in black and possessing a backpack that included the rifle that was subsequently linked through ballistics testing to Beaudette's killing and a shooting that damaged a white Tesla that was being driven nearby a few days earlier.
In his opening statement Monday, defense attorney Nicholas Okorocha told jurors that he will ask them to acquit his client.
Rauda's attorney noted that DNA testing done on cigarette butts found near where authorities believe the gunman shot at Beaudette's tent did not match his client's DNA and that a match has not yet been made in a DNA database.
Beaudette's brother-in-law, who was camping in a tent nearby, testified that he heard loud popping sounds and one of the victim's children crying, and found the man dead as his two daughters kneeled next to him in a pool of blood.
During emotional testimony, Scott McCurdy told the downtown Los Angeles jury that he was sleeping in a nearby tent when he was awakened by "several loud pops" that he initially thought may have been fireworks or something from a nearby fire pit and saw "like a flash of light" early the morning of June 22, 2018.
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He said he heard one of Beaudette's daughters start to cry and waited for his brother-in-law to calm the girl down, then decided to get out of his own tent to see what was going on when he heard the girl's older sister talking with her.
"I heard the girls crying," he said, telling jurors that Beaudette's youngest daughter said, "Wet, wet" and that he didn't think anything about it at the time.
McCurdy said he tried to verbally comfort the girls while trying to rouse his brother-in-law from sleep and turned on his brother-in-law's phone after noticing that his own hand felt slippery.
"My hand was covered in blood," he said, noting that he turned back to his brother-in-law and saw the girls kneeling in a pool of blood and his brother-in-law's face in a pool of blood.
He said he reached down to try to feel his brother-in-law's neck for a pulse and realized he should get the girls out of the tent and call out to neighboring campers for help.
The victim's brother-in-law said he held on to the girls until a few neighbors came over and then went back into the tent to check on Beaudette.
"I noticed there was nothing in his eyes," he said of the 35-year- old Allergan research scientist from Irvine. "I realized he was gone and I left."
He said he started to put together what had happened to Beaudette and recalled that he had noticed that there was a small hole in the fairly new tent at the campsite, where toys were strewn about and a children's bike was on top of one of the vehicles.
The prosecution's first witness, Stacey Sebourn, who was camping nearby, said she was awakened early June 22, 2018, by the sound of gunshots that sounded like they came from a shotgun or rifle. She said she called 911 after hearing a man calling for help and a baby crying.
"It was a very mournful cry for daddy over and over again -- `daddy, daddy, daddy,"' she said.
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She said she whispered during her 911 call to report the shooting because she didn't want to bring attention to her own tent.
"I was petrified," she said, noting that she didn't initially come out of her tent after the shooting.
Rauda was arrested Oct. 10, 2018.
He was sentenced in December 2018 to six months in jail for gun and ammunition violations, a sentence set to run consecutively with an earlier 160- day sentence for a probation violation.
He was charged in January 2019 with the alleged crime spree and subsequently indicted in October 2019.
Rauda was sentenced last June to three years and eight months in jail after being convicted of attacking two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies since he's been in custody. Both of those attacks were caught on surveillance video, and Rauda was subsequently brought into court for further hearings in a chair in which he was confined.
Superior Court Judge Eleanor J. Hunter noted that Rauda was not in court just before the trial's opening statements, telling jurors that he had "elected to exercise his constitutional right not to be present."
City News Service contributed to this report.