Not guilty verdict in home invasion robbery
Kathy Caufield vividly remembers the evening of March 26, 2009.
She was on the phone with her son, Brian, from her home in Ft. Worth, Texas. Brian, 31, was planning a move from Sherman Oaks to Studio City.
Kathy was talking to her son about the paperwork he needed for the new place when she heard him scream.
"'Mom, Mom, they're taking me!'"
"Then I could hear over the phone Brian saying 'What are you doing? What are you doing?'"
His questions were followed by the sound of "pew, pew, pew," she said. No response.
A jury in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday found Marquise Terrel Edwards, 24, not guilty of Brian Caufield’s murder. Edwards was arrested nearly two weeks after Caufield was shot to death. Los Angeles County prosecutors charged him with one count of murder, one count of home-invasion robbery and one count of burglary. His trial began Sept. 16 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. The jury found him not guilty on all counts.
Authorities claimed Edwards and two other men, Daryl Sconiers and Kenyon Aikens, entered Caufield's apartment with the intent to rob him of cash and pounds of marijuana stored in a safe. Sconiers and Aikens remain at large. Investigators believe they are hiding somewhere in the United States.
On the evening of March 26, police responded to a 911 call and found Caufield in his apartment. He had zip ties on one wrist and had been shot several times. Paramedics were called, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Caufield’s roommate, Eric Gonzalez, who had also been in the apartment during the assault, was discovered handcuffed in a nearby apartment.
Last week, Phillip Marshall, who prosecuted Edwards, asked Gonzalez to recall the events leading up to the attack.
Gonzalez said he and Caufield had just finished smoking marijuana in the late afternoon when Edwards, Sconiers and Aikens unexpectedly arrived at the residence. While Caufield, Sconiers and Edwards went together to a back bedroom, Gonzalez stayed with Aikens in the living room.
Shortly after the others left the room, Gonzalez told the court, Aikens stood up to get some water and identified himself as a police officer. He said Aikens pulled out a badge and a handgun and handcuffed him.
Gonzalez testified that he thought he was under arrest and that Aikens was a cop.
Gonzalez said that when Edwards came back into the living room, Aikens ordered him to get on the ground along with Gonzalez. But Gonzalez said Edwards jumped up from the ground after Aikens left the room and yanked on his handcuffs.
Gonzalez also testified that when Sconiers and Aikens ran out of the back bedroom where they had been with Caufield, they yelled at Edwards to grab the messenger bag they had brought with them and the three fled together.
Gonzalez, still handcuffed, said he could hear Caufield making his way into the living room. He told the court that Caufield said to him: “Hero, they got me. I think I’m done, homie,” Then he collapsed.
Gonzalez said he left and ran to a nearby apartment. When a neighbor and Caufield’s girlfriend walked up, Gonzalez said, he told them that he had been robbed and he told his roommate's girlfriend to get the rest of the marijuana and cash out of the apartment.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Christopher Darden asked Gonzalez why he did not call police immediately after the home invasion. Darden suggested that Gonzalez was more concerned with transferring the drugs and money than his friend’s well-being.
Gonzalez responded that Caufield was his best friend and that he only removed the items because he believed Caufield was already dead. Darden noted that in exchange for Gonzalez’s testimony, he was given immunity on possible charges of accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice.
Darden’s cross-examination highlighted inconsistencies with Gonzalez’s statements in the police report and his testimony in court, in particular his account of the number of assailants during the attempted robbery and the exact sequence of events.
The prosecution also called Krysten Burtt, a visitor at the apartment the day of the shooting, as a witness. She said she happened to enter the apartment building with the three suspects about 5:18 p.m. She stayed for about 25 to 30 minutes, and then went to her car, which was parked on the street outside of the building.
Burtt said she didn’t see the three men again until she was by her car, about to leave. Two men came walking on the sidewalk “with a purpose” she said, while a third man jumped over a fence and joined the two. They then entered their car, which was parked behind Burtt’s. They did not exchange words as “they peeled out,” she said.
In court, Edwards cried and prayed when the clerk read the not-guilty verdicts from jurors, who began deliberating Friday afternoon and returned with their decision before noon Monday. Judge Sam Ohta had to caution Edwards’ friends and family to quiet down.
Kathy Caufield also wept. Earlier in the trial, she said she remains committed to finding Sconiers and Aikens and bringing them to justice. Authorities believe one of them was the actual gunman who shot her son.
Each morning, she said, she wakes up to the memory of her final conversation with her son.
On the day he was killed, she said, she stayed on the phone for 23 minutes after she last heard his voice. Later, she spoke to a police officer at the scene.
"It looks like a robbery gone bad," she recalled him saying.
It was not until later in the evening that she finally got answers. She called the LAPD's Sherman Oaks office.
"Please, no one will answer me about my son!" she remembered saying. The officer told her, "Yes, your son has passed."
-- Sarah Ardalani
Top photo: Brian Caufield. Credit: Sarah Ardalani / Los Angeles Times
Middle photo: Marquise Edwards during a court hearing on June 17. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
Bottom photo: Daryl Sconiers (left) and Kenyon Aikens (right). Credit: Department of Motor Vehicles