Platz’s fate in hands of jury
March 25, 2003
Attorneys finished hurling the last bits of evidence in closing arguments Monday, allowing jurors to begin deliberating this morning in the case of a mother accused of slashing her daughter’s throat.
Lisa Platz sat silently hunched at the defense table as El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy described the first-degree murder charge to jurors. Platz faces life in prison if convicted.
Closing arguments took up the bulk of the day as Lacy, who has the burden of proof in a case once considered for the death penalty, had two chances to convince jurors that Platz is guilty.
Armed with guns, Platz and her boyfriend, James Csucsai, are accused of taking Platz’s daughter from her stepmother in Washington state on Aug. 13, 2001. An FBI manhunt ensued and the three were found at Campground by the Lake during the early hours of Sept. 21, 2001.
Platz and Csucsai were found alive with knife wounds when authorities stormed their three-person tent after a nine-hour standoff.
The body of Rebbeca Aramburo, Platz’s 9-year-old daughter, was discovered wrapped in blankets. She died from knife wounds that exposed her trachea. A large military knife is the suspected murder weapon.
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On April 4, 2002, Csucsai hanged himself in jail with a bedsheet the day after Rebbeca would have turned 10. The defense presented a letter Csucsai wrote to Platz nearly confessing the crime.
Lacy, who hasn’t tried a case since becoming district attorney nine years ago, used a PowerPoint presentation to show the areas for conviction. Lacy theorized Platz, 33, either aided and abetted in her daughter’s death or willfully, deliberately and premeditatedly committed the act.
The third, and perhaps easiest theory to prove, is the first-degree felony murder rule. It states that if a death occurred — either intentionally, unintentionally or accidentally — during the commission of a crime, in this case the alleged kidnapping, a person can be found guilty of murder.
Lacy’s theory, which is the direct opposite of Public Defender Rick Meyer’s belief, is that Platz was behind Rebbeca and cut her throat so the child wouldn’t go back to her biological father, Jose Aramburo. It was a murder-suicide pact that was only partially completed, Lacy said.
He focused on Platz keeping quiet in the tent, being concerned only with Aramburo getting Rebbeca and therefore Platz having nothing to lose with criminal charges pending.
“This case is about Lisa Platz doing things her way, for herself,” Lacy said.
Lacy admitted pieces were missing, but hoped jurors could see the case clearly.
“The legal system let Rebbeca down, Lisa let Rebbeca down,” Lacy said. “As I stand here today, I want you to do your duty and charge Lisa with the crime and not let Rebbeca down.”
Platz and Rebbeca were nearly inseparable before Jose Aramburo wanted visitation rights. An Alaskan court granted Aramburo custody of Rebbeca in December 1999. The decision was reversed so child investigators could look into the lives of Platz and Aramburo. After interviews and a look into living situations, a court granted full custody to Aramburo and visitation rights to Platz.
Those rights were revoked when Platz failed to return Rebbeca after a weeklong visit in spring 2001. Platz was facing parental abduction charges in Washington when she and Csucsai allegedly took Rebbeca.
Meyer kicked off his argument with reading correspondence from Csucsai. It was the first time it was fully presented in court.
Two pieces of correspondence were threatening and profanity-laced e-mails Csucsai sent to his ex-wife and sister, warning them if he were caught, a gun battle would ensue. He mentioned nobody would go to jail, including Rebbeca.
The third was a handwritten letter sent to Platz. It explained ceaseless pain and undying love. Csucsai wrote he didn’t remember much of the standoff, only a “pair of hands, a knife and an innocent child laying lifeless beneath me.”
Meyer believes Csucsai pinned Rebbeca with his knees and slashed her throat. Meyer contends Csucsai cut Platz’s left wrist deep enough to make the unsuspecting mother pass out and unable to stop the murder.
Platz was pointed to as the murderer from the beginning during an inept investigation, Meyer said.
“Lisa Platz loved Rebbeca everyday of her life and Rebbeca felt that love every single day of her life and the final insult … is to convict her mother of a murder she never committed,” Meyer said. Meyer believes a lesser charge of child abduction applies rather than kidnapping. He questioned if Rebbeca was kidnapped when testimony revealed she ran and hugged her mother, who held a handgun pointed at the ground.
“You don’t have to let them tell you you don’t have a choice,” Meyer said, referencing the murder rule. “You do have a choice.”
After Meyer rested, Lacy was unconvinced it was a confession letter.
“I’m not sure I’m a 100 percent sure I killed her,” Lacy said, reading Csucsai’s letter. “He didn’t even say he did it.”
The jury will begin its deliberation this morning at 8 after hearing 13 days of testimony.
— E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org