Although no body was ever found, a prosecutor told a Santa Cruz jury Tuesday that they had enough evidence to convict two men for the murder of 29-year-old Los Angeles entrepreneur Elias Sorokin in July, 2009.
Santa Cruz District Attorney Robert Wade told the 7-woman, 5-man jury that Kenneth Clamp, then 39, and Adam Hunt, then 29, were part of a conspiracy that went wrong. The plan was to drug Sorokin with chloroform and steal thousands of dollars of marijuana that he came to sell.
Sorokin was a talented guitarist who owned a clothing store called Kuccon Designs and had many friends who searched for him after he didn't return to Los Angeles.
Central to the case is a third man, Stewart Skuba, then 31, who had the chloroform and enlisted the others to help him. He will be tried separately.
Wade gave the first part of his closing argument Monday, followed by defense attorney George Gigarjian, who is representing Hunt. Attorney Larry Shalberg is scheduled to argue for Clamp Tuesday.
"This is a very dark place we find ourselves in at 244 Felix Street," Wade told the jury, describing a house filled with drug users who were high on methamphetamine alcohol and marijuana every day. "These are not people we know or associate with in our lives."
The home was shared by Skuba's 19-year-old girlfriend, Kristen Roberts, her brother, George, Jr., 17, and their father, George Sr., all three of whom testified for the prosecution against Hunt and Clamp.
The Roberts told the jury they heard the sounds of a fight coming from the garage and later saw –or heard– Hunt cleaning up in the bathroom, after looking like he had been in a fight.
Wade described a plan by Skuba to subdue Sorokin with chloroform. To do that, the prosecutor alleged, it would take two people: one to hold him, while the other held the drug over his mouth and nose.
Somehow, the drug didn't work and Hunt and Skuba ended up beating the Los Angeles man unconscious, the prosecutor said. Then, when Hunt panicked and left, Skuba called his good friend Clamp to help him kill Sorokin and dispose of the body.
Skuba planned to steal the drugs thinking that Sororkin wouldn't report the crime to police. However, when the drug didn't work, he feared that Sorokin would report them and the plan would backfire.
Clamp reportedly asked Skuba if he would be able to live with killing Sorokin the rest of his life, while the man was bleeding in the garage. When Skuba said yes, the deal was done, said the attorney.
The two drove north and disposed of the body in an hour.
According to Wade, Kristen said she heard Stewart say he "heard Elias's body go thunk thunk down the cliff," after he and Clamp dumped it. Later they set fire to Sorokin's truck in a forest road outside of Bonny Doon.
The case was broken a week later when Kristen Roberts was arrested by Watsonville Police for using one of Sorokin's credit cards. She led detectives to her boyfriend and his friends. She had a record of passing bad checks and admitted stealing anything she could to buy more drugs.
Wade acknowledged that there can be problems accepting the testimony of a drug abuser who has agreed to cooperate with police while she has other cases pending. However, he noted there was corroborating testimony from other witnesses, including her family members and friends.
Moreover, Sororkin's blood was found in the garage, on the underside of a motor scooter, backing up the claims. The blood could have only gotten there in a struggle in which the victim was under the scooter and blood splattered upwards, said Wade.
Defense attorney George Gigarjian said the prosecution's case reminded him of a Jackson Pollock painting, with everything thrown against a wall and no logic behind it.
"I think there's more confusion than clarity listening to the witnesses," he told the jury.
He spent hours tearing apart the statements by the Roberts family, contesting even the smallest ones, such as Kristen's claim that she was watching a "That's So Raven" marathon on TV. He introduced a television guide into evidence that showed there was no such marathon, only one program.
He showed a pattern of lies by Roberts, who claimed at one point not to have a romantic relationship with Skuba, but then said that one of the first things she bought with money stolen from Sorokin was a pregnancy test.
With so many specious stories by a woman and her family who were trying to stay out of jail themselves, he asked the jury whether they could have enough confidence in the testimony to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"All she cares about is getting high and staying out of jail," Gigarjian said.
He also said that phone records showed that Adam Hunt wasn't in Santa Cruz most of the day of the murder, leaving open the question of whether he was ever in the house.
Gigarjian said the plan was Skuba's alone, with Roberts by his side. He said Skuba didn't need another person to help with the chloroform.
"All along it was Mr. Skuba's play," the attorney said. "It was Bonnie and Clyde's play."