A father was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for throwing his 4-year-old daughter off a 120-foot Southern California seaside cliff 15 years ago.
Cameron Brown, a 53-year-old former airline baggage handler, had been in custody for more than a decade in connection with the death of his daughter, Lauren Key. He was convicted in May of first-degree murder after two previous trials when jurors decided the death was a crime, but they couldn't agree whether it was murder or manslaughter.
Brown sat still and staring straight ahead in his chair on Friday as person after person approached the podium.
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"I miss tickling her tummy and watching her giggle so hard that tears of laughter would run down her cheeks," said Sarah Key-Marer, her mother.
Her voice halting and pinched, Marer described the 4 year old she had known and loved dearly. Lauren was the bright-eyed, friendly child that Brown fathered 19 years ago.
But a custody and child support dispute between them had taken its toll.
"I watched her sparkle fade in the last months of her life," Marer said.
Even at 4, Marer said, Lauren couldn't understand why Brown couldn't love her, like her stepfather and brother did.
She witnessed chaos and turmoil and was always at the center of the dispute. It all came to a tragic end one day on a cliff in Palos Verdes. Brown threw Lauren 120 feet to her death, then claimed she had "tripped" as she ran toward the cliff's edge at Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes.
"It's difficult for all of us," said Josh Marer, her step brother.
After three trials and 15 years, a jury in May convicted Brown.
On Friday, Sarah Key-Marer said she forgives Brown for what he did because it's the only way she and her family can move on. But she refused to address him by his first name.
"Mr. Brown, you'll never take her memory from us," she said.
"We just want to cherish our memories of Lauren," the girls' mother, Sarah Key-Marer, said after the sentencing."It saddens me that he would show no emotion and he would be so stoic. He showed no remorse."
"I have many questions that I would like to ask him. I doubt I'd ever get an answer. God knows what happened that day.
"I'm so thankful that I don't have that intense revenge and anger. I'm just happy to have what we have now."
She also was asked what she would say to her daughter if she could see her again.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry I couldn't save her. There are so many things I would love to tell her."
As he left to begin his sentence, he refused to look at her or any member of her family.
Prosecutors said Brown killed the girl in November 2000 out of hatred for his ex-girlfriend. He never wanted the child and was locked in a bitter dispute with her mother over child support and custody, prosecutors said.
A key witness came forward at the third trial who testified that Brown said it would be "nice to get rid of Lauren" to avoid $1,000-a-month payments.
Brown wanted Key-Marer to get an abortion, and he even tried to get her deported to her British homeland, Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said. Their relationship soured after she got pregnant, prosecutors said.
Defense lawyer Aron Laub said Brown was a bad father, but not a murderer. Laub disputed testimony by a prosecution expert that showed a girl her age wouldn't have been able to run fast enough to land where she did in the rocky ocean below. He asked jurors to convict Brown of manslaughter.
Because jurors also found Brown killed the girl for financial gain and that he lay in wait, he faced the mandatory term of life without parole.