Man sentenced to life for throwing daughter off cliff

A former airport baggage handler was sentenced today to life in prison without the possibility of parole for throwing his 4-year-old daughter to her death over a 120-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes nearly 15 years ago.

Cameron John Brown has insisted the girl accidentally tumbled down the cliff.

Brown, who will turn 54 Monday, did not speak during his sentencing hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli, who presided over Brown's third trial for the death of Lauren Sarene Key on Nov. 8, 2000.

A six-man, six-woman jury -- which deliberated about 1 1/2 days before convicting Brown on May 13 -- also found true the special circumstance allegations of murder for financial gain and murder while lying in wait.

Two previous juries had deadlocked in Brown's case, with all 24 of those jurors indicating they believed he was guilty but deadlocking on whether he should be convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.

The first jury to hear the case deadlocked in Torrance in August 2006, with eight panelists favoring a second-degree murder conviction and two each lobbying for first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. In 2009, six jurors in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom voted in favor of convicting Brown of second-degree murder, while the other six favored involuntary manslaughter.

Brown has been jailed without bail for nearly 12 years. He has insisted that the girl's death was an accident, and his attorney plans to appeal his conviction.

Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum -- who was the prosecutor on each of Brown's three trials -- told jurors in the latest trial that the little girl was picked up and thrown off the isolated tip of Inspiration Point as a result of Brown's hatred for the girl's mother and a "desire for revenge."

The prosecutor told the panel that Brown showed no interest in meeting his daughter until she was over 3 years old, and that Brown was advised that he needed to request visitation if he wanted a reduction in the monthly child
support payments of about $1,000 he had been ordered to pay.

The prosecutor told jurors Brown unsuccessfully tried to convince the girl's mother to get an abortion when he first learned she was pregnant and subsequently tried to have her deported.

Hum questioned Brown's statement to investigators that he "could barely keep up with this 4-year-old little girl" on their walk to Inspiration Point, which is unfenced and has steep 120-foot-high cliffs.

Brown's attorney, Aron Laub, told jurors that two tragedies unfolded -- "the death of a 4-year-old" and "the prosecution of Cameron Brown" -- and denied that his client had any hatred for the girl's mother.

"This father, who had this duty to hold her hand or hold her ... didn't do it," the defense lawyer said, but he added that the child fell to her death in a tragic accident.

After the verdict, the jury's foreman, Greg Apodaca, said he believed the jury had "delivered justice."

"It didn't seem likely that a 4-year-old girl would be up there of her own volition," he said, referring to a trip the jurors made to the site of the cliff.

The girl's mother, Sarah Key-Marer, wept after the verdict was announced. "All I ever wanted was that he would take responsibility for what happened that day so I'm thankful for God for carrying me and my family and my
friends through this time," she said. "Lauren was our gift from God, the best thing that ever happened to us."

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