LOS ANGELES (AP) — A chef who told police he boiled his wife’s body for four days to hide evidence of her death was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder.
David Viens showed no reaction as the verdict was read. The sister of his victim burst out sobbing.
In a recorded interrogation presented by prosecutors during the trial, Viens, 49, can be heard saying he cooked the body of his 39-year-old wife, Dawn Viens, in late 2009 until little was left but her skull.
“He treated her like a piece of meat and got rid of her,” said Karen Patterson, the couple’s best friend who spoke to reporters outside court.
She was the key witness in Viens’ trial and the person who prodded police to investigate her friend’s disappearance.
At a news conference, she tearfully warned others to take heed of domestic violence among friends and call police. She apologized for failing to call 911 when Dawn Viens called her during an incident of abuse but begged her not to call police.
“Maybe you have to go beyond your friend’s trust and try to save lives,” she said.
Juror Tal Erickson said it was Viens’ own words in two confessions that convinced them of his guilt.
The chef spoke to authorities from a hospital bed in March 2011 after leaping off an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes. Authorities say he jumped after learning he was a suspect in her disappearance.
The trial relied heavily on recorded interviews with authorities in which the chef acknowledged the crime in detail.
“I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days,” Viens could be heard saying on the recording.
Viens, who attended his trial in a wheelchair, said in the interview that he stuffed his wife’s body in a 55-gallon drum of boiling water and kept it submerged with weights.
He said he mixed what remained after four days with other waste, dumping some of it in a grease pit at his restaurant in Lomita, and putting the rest in the trash.
He said he stashed his wife’s skull in his mother’s attic in Torrance. But a search of the house turned up nothing, nor did an excavation of the restaurant.
Erickson told reporters the gruesome evidence shocked jurors.
“A few of us had a hard time sleeping at night,” he said. “I would think about it and ask, ‘Why?’”
If there was any question about the guilt of Viens, it was wiped out by his plunge off the cliff, Erickson said.
“My opinion was if he was innocent, he wouldn’t jump off a cliff,” the juror said.
On the recording played in court, Viens was asked what happened on Oct. 18, 2009, the night his wife disappeared.
He said he had noticed money missing from his restaurant and suspected his wife. They got into an argument, he said, and he forced her onto the floor where he wrapped her up and put a piece of duct tape over her mouth before going to bed.
He awoke to find her dead, and he panicked, he said.
Viens was charged with first-degree murder, which means the killing was premeditated, but jurors had the option of convicting him of that or second-degree murder or manslaughter. The six men and six women on the panel deliberated for about five hours before reaching the verdict.
Erickson said the jury did not believe the killing was premeditated, even though Viens had threatened to kill his wife after finding the money missing.
“Anyone can say that and not follow through,” the juror said.
Viens’ lawyer, Fred McCurry, declined comment on the way out of the courtroom except to say he planned to appeal.
Viens is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 27. He could face 15 years to life in prison.
Dawn Viens’ sister, Dayna Papin, said, “There’s no happy ending. Two families have suffered tremendously. This is a man I’ve known for 20 years who was like a father to me.”
Patterson, the longtime friend, said she would like to visit Viens in prison.
“Even through all this, he is still my friend,” she said. “I struggle with the lovely person who killed another lovely person. I would remind him of how much Dawn loved him.”
She said she was satisfied with the second-degree murder verdict.
“Murder is murder,” she said.