Murder defendent David Viens wheels himself into court for the first day of his jury trial in Los Angeles Wednesday on charges of killing his wife, Dawn
Murder defendent David Viens wheels himself into court for the first day of his jury trial in Los Angeles Wednesday on charges of killing his wife, Dawn Viens. Defense attorney Fred McCurry at left. (Sean Hiller / Staff Photographer)
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A Lomita chef on trial for allegedly killing his wife and cooking her body in a drum suddenly jumped up from his wheelchair Thursday in court, raised his right hand and said, "Your honor, I object!"

David Viens' outburst occurred immediately after his attorney, Fred McCurry, announced his defense case was complete and he would not be calling more witnesses.

"Just have a seat, sir," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rand Rubin told Viens, asking the jury to leave the courtroom.

Until that moment, Viens had not publicly stood since his Feb. 23, 2011, leap from a Rancho Palos Verdes cliff. During his weeklong trial, he has sat in his wheelchair, but used his legs to move about in his chair.

Rubin asked McCurry to speak with Viens, noting Viens "literally did jump" from his wheelchair. They talked for a moment, but Viens said nothing more to the judge to explain his objection.

The dramatic moment occurred about 90 minutes after Viens told Rubin he had lost confidence in his defense and wanted to represent himself.

Viens is charged with killing his 39-year-old wife, Dawn Viens, who was last seen Oct.


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18, 2009. In two chilling confessions following his suicide attempt, Viens admitted to detectives that he bound and gagged his wife with clear duct tape because she was "raising hell" as he tried to sleep. He took an Ambien sleeping pill, awakened four hours later, and discovered "she was hard."

He told detectives he placed her entire 105-pound body into a 55-gallon drum filled with water and boiled her for four days in his kitchen at his Thyme Contemporary Cafe, discarding fat and flesh in his restaurant's grease pit. The rest was placed in bags in a trash bin behind the Narbonne Avenue business, where Viens continued to work until his cliff jump.

Viens, 49, has appeared at times during the trial to be seething and glaring at his attorney.

After he was wheeled into the courtroom Thursday, Viens announced he had lost confidence in his defense and wanted to act as his own lawyer.

"We have a difference in the trial tactics, your honor," Viens said, adding he wanted to call more witnesses.

Asked by the judge if he wanted to represent himself, Viens said, "I'm afraid to do that, but I feel I have no choice."

"You understand it's very dangerous," Rubin said, asking Viens if he had attended law school or tried a case in court.

Viens, who was convicted of drug trafficking in Florida and served a prison sentence before moving to California, said he needed time to prepare and asked, "How would I go about building my own exhibits?"

Rubin responded by denying his request, saying the trial was nearly over and it was too late.

Viens' mother, Sandra Viens, said later her son was upset because he believes the judge is working against him with his rulings.

"It's very biased," she said. "He feels he is getting no defense."

Viens' mother said "it was very surprising" to see her son stand up and object. She said her son can stand, but not walk.

On Wednesday and Thursday, McCurry called three witnesses during his defense case, including a man who said he did not hear Viens say, "I'll kill that bitch" the night Dawn Viens was last seen. A prosecution witness testified otherwise.

During testimony Thursday, Dr. Marvin Pietruszka, a forensic pathologist paid to testify by the defense, said that Viens broke his pelvis, right foot, right lower leg, his neck, ribs and spine when he jumped from the cliff. He also suffered a collapsed lung and blood clots.

Pietruszka, however, was not involved in the treatment of Viens at County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance or at County-USC Medical Center in Los Angeles. 

When Viens made his hospital-bed confession on March 15, 2011, he was taking an anti-anxiety drug, as well as painkillers including morphine, Pietruszka said.

The doctor suggested the drugs could result in side effects such as confusion and altered memory. Pietruszka also said Ambien can cause hallucinations.

The judge did not allow him to comment directly on how the drugs could have affected Viens.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.

larry.altman@dailybreeze.com

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