A chef who admitted he stuffed his wife’s body in a pot and ‘just slowly cooked it’ for four days in an effort to cover up her grisly death has been found guilty of her murder.
On the final day of his trial, a Los Angeles jury on Thursday convicted David Viens, 49, of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Dawn, in late 2009.
‘He treated her like a piece of meat and got rid of her,’ the couple’s best friend Karen Patterson said after the verdict.
Prosecutors relied on gruesome interrogation tapes, played to jurors, in which Viens described how he shoved Dawn’s body in a 55-gallon drum of boiling water and cooked it until little but her skull was left.
‘I ended up cooking her for four days,’ the chef, who pleaded not guilty in the trial, said on the recording.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the jury failed to reach a verdict on Wednesday on whether Viens is guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter.
After jurors asked for the definition of second-degree murder, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rand S. Rubin referred them to the jury instructions.
During the trial, defense attorney Fred McCurry said the evidence didn’t support a first-degree murder conviction against his client, which requires proof of premeditation.
Ms Patterson, who was the key witness in Viens’ trial and the person who prodded police to investigate her friend’s disappearance, used a news conference after the trial to urge others to report incidents of domestic violence.
She apologised for failing to call 911 when Mrs 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.
However, Ms Patterson said she would nonetheless like to visit the killer 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.’
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.’
Viens spoke to police on two occasions from a hospital bed in March 2011 after throwing himself of an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes when he heard he was a suspect in her disappearance.
A juror said it was that apparent suicide attempt which convinced him of Viens’ guilt, adding: ‘My opinion was if he was innocent, he wouldn’t jump off a cliff.’
The chef, who attended the trial in a wheelchair, said in the recordings that he mixed what remained of his wife after she was boiled up with other waste and then dumped some of it in a grease pit at his restaurant and put the rest in the trash.
He said he stashed his wife’s skull in his mother’s attic in Torrance.
During the trial, Viens told investigators that they couldn’t find his wife’s body because he had cooked it for four days in boiling water.
Los Angeles Superior Court jurors heard David Viens make the statement in a recorded interview with sheriff’s investigators that was played in court on Tuesday during his murder trial.
A search of Viens’ mother’s house turned up nothing, nor did an excavation of his restaurant Thyme Contemporary Cafe in Lomita, Los Angeles.
On the recording played in court, sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Garcia asked Viens what happened on Oct. 18, 2009, the night his wife disappeared.
‘For some reason I just got violent,’ said Viens.
The trial against Viens opened last week, with his daughter Jacqueline telling the court that her father had previously joked that cooking someone was a good way to get rid of the body.
Jacqueline, 22, recalled the conversation she had with her father one night in 2009. She recalled him saying that Dawn Viens had been needling him and he just wanted to sleep.
He’d tried barricading their bedroom door with a dresser but when that didn’t work, he tied her up and taped her mouth. The next morning, Dawn Viens was dead.
She said her father told her, through tears, that her body would never be found.
When he was arrested, he told investigators a similar story.
Defense attorney Fred McCurry questioned Jacqueline’s account of the conversation, saying she had both drank and smoked marijuana the night it took place and her memory was ‘fuzzy’.
She did testify that she had never seen the couple argue and they ‘seemed like they loved each other’.
Viens claims his wife ran away to the mountains from their restaurant 16 months ago after an argument over whether she should go for drug rehabilitation.
But authorities were suspicious because of ‘inconsistent statements’ he gave and the fact she left behind her wallet, mobile phone and other personal belongings
His new girlfriend, Kathy Galvan, then took over Mrs Viens’s job and moved into her home, before he was seen throwing out his wife’s belongings into a dustbin behind his restaurant, police said.
Speaking about this, Jacqueline said she had been asked by her father to bag up Dawn’s clothes and take them to a storage unit. The rest were thrown out.
The 22-year-old also said that Dawn Viens was no saint.
‘She’d wake up in the morning and drink all day long,’ adding that the pair had done cocaine together.
She also told jurors that after the ‘drunken confession’, her father asked her to send a text message from Dawn Viens’ phone to one of his wife’s friends saying: ‘This is Dawn. I’m OK. I’m in Florida and I’m here to start over.’
Then she got rid of the phone to protect her dad
Police upgraded the case from a missing person case to a homicide after they found blood inside Viens apartment.
They had been looking for him when they saw the suspect and Kathy Galvan in his car on a road near the coastline by Point Vicente Interpretive Center near Rancho Palos Verdes.
He sped off to a lighthouse car park, jumped out and began grappling with Ms Galvan before officers tried to intervene. But Viens broke free and seemed to purposely leap off the cliff to the beach below.
‘Viens dove off a 100ft cliff to avoid talking to our detectives, and that is somewhat telling,’ Sheriff’s Department detective chief Bill McSweeney said.
He was placed in a medically-induced coma but ultimately survived the attempt – though with critical injuries.