Kelly Soo Park Acquitted of All Charges for Model's Death

A Korean American woman accused of having murdered a Maxim model by strangling her with her bare hands was acquitted of all charges Tuesday morning in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

The prosecution had argued that Park, 47, had been paid large sums of money by Dr Munir Uwaydah to kill Juliana Redding, 21, an aspiring actress. Redding had briefly dated Uwaydah several months before her death. Uwaydah had been employing Park in a vague capacity.

Redding was found dead in her West Los Angeles apartment on Centinela Avenue in March of 2008, about five days after her father broke off negotiations on a prospective investment deal with the doctor. The doctor fled the country in 2010 after Park’s arrest and is thought to be living in his native Lebanon.

After a week of deliberations the jury had already decided to acquit Park of first-degree murder charges earlier in the morning though that fact was not disclosed to the public by the judge at the time. It then returned to the jury room to deliberate on second-degree murder charges after hearing the prosecutor and defense counsel present arguments on the elements of that charge.

When the jury returned later in the morning with a defense verdict on the second-degree murder charge, Park slumped forward in relief, then hugged one of her attorneys. Redding’s friends and family shouted out to Park, “Murderer!” and “Go to hell!” as soon as court was adjourned. Another shouted, “This is a travesty of justice!”

The outcome of the week of jury deliberations came as a surprise to most legal observers. The prosecution had tied Park to the murder scene through DNA evidence found in Redding’s apartment and on her neck. The defense had argued that Park’s DNA could have entered the apartment through contact with objects at Uwaydah’s home before the objects were taken by Redding to her apartment.

Redding’s battered and scratched body bore marks of a fierce struggle in which she had apparently fought tooth and nail against her assailant. Park was alleged to have essentially used her bare hands to beat and strangle Redding, a fit young woman who had been on her Tucson high school’s track and golf teams before moving to Santa Monica to pursue a career as a actor and model. The many injuries suffered by Redding includes a broken bone in her neck but no sign that a weapon had been used.

Park didn’t become a serious suspect, however, until two years later, preventing the prosecution from securing physical evidence that may have been available closer to the time of Redding’s death.

Park’s attorneys also questioned the existence of any rational motive for Park to kill Redding. Park was not linked romantically to Uwaydah. The prosecution argued that she was a paid enforcer for Uwaydah who was upset after Redding’s father broke off negotiations. The doctor had once told a witness that Park was his “female James Bond.” The prosecution offered evidence of Park’s $10,000-per-month salary from Uwaydah. Bank transfers of $250,000 paid to Park three weeks before the murder and $113,400 paid to members of her family just before her arrest two years after Redding’s death are also suspected to have originated from Uwaydah.

The prosecution had suggested after Park’s arrest that she helped Uwaydah collect moneys owed him. She had described herself as his real estate broker.

Oddly Uwaydah was never placed under suspicion of having been complicit in the killing. Also oddly, Park’s Camarillo roommate, a beefy 37-year-old named Ronnie Wayne Case, wasn’t charged though he had been arrested with Park in 2010.

Park’s defense attorney had tried and failed to get Judge Kathleen Kennedy to let him present in his opening statement the possibility that Redding was murdered by her tattooed surfer boyfriend John Gillmore. Gillmore had called the police to Redding’s apartment after he and her parents weren’t able to reach her by phone. The police had spotted drops of blood on the sidewalk in front of Redding’s apartment, persuading them to enter it.

The defense was seeking to have Gillmore considered an alternate suspect based on an argument he had with Redding on the night of her death as documented by their text messages. However, the argument ended with her inviting him over to watch Seinfeld. Gillmore also has a history of domestic violence. But Santa Monica detectives ruled him out as a suspect based on a sound alibi and the fact that his body showed no signs of the kind of physical struggle suggested by Redding’s bruised body and broken fingernails.

The defense also turned to an audio enhancement expert who claimed that the audio of a videotape of Gillmore while left alone in the interrogation room contained a confession. He claims that the enhanced audio shows the distraught Gillmore saying, “Yes. I found you with someone,” and, “I did it.”

Judge Kennedy listened to the enhanced audio during an in-chambers pre-trial motion and agreed with the prosecution that it sounded like “gibberish”. She therefore denied the defense motion to be allowed to point the finger at Gillmore during its opening statement.

Park had posted a $3.5-million bail to remain free pending trial.