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Jury deliberates in case of woman accused of shooting ex-lover, fleeing to Belize

Larene Austin was covered in blood when she walked into the Palmdale station of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department on June 16, 2010. She told deputies she had found Lanell Barsock, her ex-lover, dead in a garage and was chased away by the woman’s boyfriend.

Police initially held the boyfriend, Louis Bonheuer, on suspicion of murder. But detectives later found that he had an alibi. As they questioned Austin, inconsistencies emerged in her story.

Bonheuer was released, and Austin fled to Belize, where she was arrested in January 2012.

“Why run away when you're innocent?” Deputy Dist. Atty. Jason Quirino said Wednesday in his closing statements of the six-week murder trial against Austin. “Why change your story so many times when you did nothing wrong? Something doesn’t add up.”

The jury in the case began deliberations Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Lancaster. If convicted of first-degree murder, Austin could face a life sentence.

Austin and Barsock met through Craigslist in May of 2010 and became romantically involved. Barsock ended their relationship via text message the next month, saying she wanted to stay with her boyfriend but remain friends with Austin.

On June 16, Austin was styling Barsock’s hair at the home she shared with her boyfriend, Quirino said. That’s when Austin grabbed a pillow from a chair, put it next to Barsock’s head and shot her, prosecutors say. A crime scene expert testified that the bullet’s trajectory was consistent with the prosecution’s assertions. Ballistics evidence matches a model of a gun that Austin had registered in her name. Investigators did not find Austin’s gun.

The prosecution also provided security footage, transaction records and cellphone signals that placed Bonheuer in Los Angeles, more than an hour’s drive from Palmdale, on the day of the killing.

David Kwak, Austin’s defense attorney, countered that Austin had no motive to kill Barsock. After Barsock ended their relationship, Austin replied that she understood and wanted to remain friends, he said. The defense also argued that the prosecution, in the absence of proving a motive, tried to smear Austin by bringing up text messages about Austin’s other romantic relationships.

“The prosecution has a very weak argument, and they know it,” Kwak told the jury in his closing statements.

Kwak also tried to show that Bonheuer had a motive and brought up evidence of Barsock’s having an affair with another man and financial and other arguments he had had with Barsock.

On Thursday, the jury found Austin guilty of first-degree murder.


Aug. 14, 2015, 2:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said the jury would resume deliberations Friday, Aug. 14. The jury reached a verdict on Thursday, Aug. 13.

-- Jerome Campbell

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