As the Jane Laut murder trial moves forward, a sense of urgency ensues

by Chris O’Neal

On a Wednesday morning, the Ventura County Government Center bustled with varying degrees of urgency. On the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice, the trial for the crime that made headlines here and across the country was in session, steadily headed toward a conclusion.

The trial for Jane Laut, accused of the murder of her husband, former Olympian Dave Laut, had been in session since Tuesday, Jan. 26. Laut is accused of shooting her husband several times, and the defense argues that it was done in self-defense.

My first visit to the courtroom came on Wednesday, Feb. 10, when Tommy Henry, a former computer forensics examiner with the District Attorney’s high-tech task force, spoke of Dave Laut’s internet search history, which included searches for divorce, followed by Margaret Kaleuati, interim chief of forensic laboratories for the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.laut

The audience over a course of several visits reflected the day’s testimony. For Kaleuati’s testimonial on the science behind gunshot residue collection (which was interesting but not the stuff TMZ or the evening news would lead with), the seats were a third full; come the day of Laut’s own testimony, however, the seats were brimming with reporters and onlookers.

Laut’s voice is subdued, high and halted. She speaks calmly with intent, but pauses, fighting tears as she recalled her version of events. Curse words seem unnatural coming from her lips. Memories of Dave Laut’s abuse came easily, however — from an incident in the 1980s, of which a retired officer testified he has no recollection even though his own reports confirm it, to the day in question, Aug. 27, 2009.

Dave Laut is painted as a neglectful husband with a possible mental disorder which caused extreme bouts of rage. On the day in question, Laut and their son, Michael, had spent a day in Carpinteria. She recalls seeing a pod of dolphins and, because of this, returned home late, sending Dave into a quiet rage that would ultimately boil over in the evening.

Questions of financial woes have also played a role in the testimony. Laut recalls her husband burning money in their fireplace and locking away the rest.

Over the course of several weeks and, as of this writing, continuing through to today (Tuesday, March 8), the trial has had a sense of urgency hovering about it. Jurors sit pensive, listening to the testimony, defense attorney Ron Bamieh and prosecutor Rameen Minoui. For a short break, both parties stand, smiling, including Laut herself, watching as the jurors file by.

On that first day in court, the tension — even during such dry testimony as that of gunshot residue — could be seen, as Bamieh, reaching for a stack of papers, accidentally spilled a glass of water in front of Laut. As the examination continued, the defense scrambled to clean the spill; it was a weird break in an otherwise sterile environment.

The trial continues this week. Witnesses who have testified since the trial’s beginning include the Lauts’ neighbors, ex-police officers and crime scene experts.