Let’s say you live in an exclusive, gated Newport Beach community and your pampered, drug-addled, adult son repeatedly has been threatening murder. What legal duty do you have to keep everyone away from your home for fear they also could be killed?
That’s a question pending now in an Orange County Superior Court civil case involving the savage February killings of Richard and Kim Nicholson, as well as Maria Morse, their housekeeper, in a $3.3 million home not far from UC Irvine and swanky Fashion Island.
Relatives of Morse are suing the Nicholson estate for at least $10 million, claiming the slain couple was obligated to advise Morse to not visit their home while their youngest son, 27-year-old Camden, was acting bizarrely and repeatedly threatening violence.
“It is indisputable that Richard and Kim Nicholson should have taken reasonable steps to protect Maria from the danger presented by Camden at the Nicholson residence, as they knew that their adult son was a serious threat and danger to others,” the lawsuit states. “The Nicholsons were negligent in repeatedly inviting Maria to come to their home and clean their house without taking security and safety measures, including police intervention.”
Prosecutors claim Camden murdered his mother and father, whom he considered “evil” and wanted to “gut,” on Feb. 11. The 62-year-old Morse was slain when she arrived the next day, according to court records.
The pending lawsuit asserts the Nicholsons placed Morse “directly in the zone of danger,” a move the plaintiffs allege triggered liability for their estate. “Any reasonable person with knowledge of the anger, aggression and violence Camden exhibited on a daily basis would have contacted authorities, among other things, and warned Maria and others that it was not safe to go to the Nicholson residence,” the lawsuit states.
At a minimum, the plaintiffs claim, the Nicholsons should have notified the around-the-clock security guards at their development to forbid Camden’s entrance and changed any gate codes he may have possessed. “Had the Nicholsons taken any of those steps, Camden would have not been able to get unannounced and unlimited access to the residence,” according to the lawsuit.
Lawyers for the Nicholson estate, however, see the situation differently.
“[The Nicholsons] had no duty to ‘red tag’ their residence, preventing anyone and everyone from coming there, be it a contractor to fix a leaky pipe, a grocery-delivery service, or a friend or relative coming to visit,” they advised Judge David Hoffer. “To impose such a permanent duty upon any homeowner would be unworkable, and such a legal duty could not ever be reduced to a written rule.”
The Nicholson estate’s lawyers have been working to end the case before it reaches a jury. Their first attack involved attempting to undermine the lawsuit by noting a shifting story about Morse’s demise. In the original complaint, Morse arrived as a housekeeper. The defendants argued an employee’s death must be handled under workers’ compensation laws, not in court. The plaintiffs then altered the reason for her arrival to label her a “family friend” who’d come that day only to deliver a letter she’d written to help the couple place Camden in a conservatorship because of his perceived instability. To the defendants, that change amounted to a “sham.”
But Hoffer didn’t agree, ruling last month that the plaintiffs were entitled to amend their complaint as they learned additional information. The defense also tried to remove the issue of whether the Nicholsons violated any legal obligation to Morse. That effort failed, too.
“Given the allegations—that the Nicholsons knew their son’s long and violent history; that he had threatened to kill his parents, particularly a few months and days before their murders; that the Nicholsons financially cut him off a few days before the murders; and that there were reasonable steps that they could have taken before inviting [Morse] to their residence—the question of whether a duty existed here is a factual one which cannot be resolved [at this early stage] in the case,” Hoffer ruled.
A trial date over the deceased couple’s assets has not yet been set. Camden, who is a beneficiary of his parents’ will, is in custody and faces multiple murder counts.
An accused violent human trafficker, who allegedly sold a minor girl in multiple states, has earned the unusual distinction of appearing in a “Pymp Syndicate” YouTube performance that shows a photograph of him donning stereotypical 1970s pimp attire.
The footage helped detectives identify Christian Alexander Augustus (a.k.a. “Sir Ceeco”) in July after an Anaheim girl, who’d run away from Orangewood Children and Family Center, contacted a social worker for help in escaping his control, according to a Department of Homeland Security report.
Augustus is now facing a charge of transporting a child in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution.
The girl, whose name is being protected, claimed she’d been forced to perform sex acts with strangers in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Santa Ana after ads such as the following were placed on the internet: “Hey Big Daddy. You want a barely legal sex slave? Do you want to [conquer] my tiny vessel? My time is yours, my love. Text only with a picture if you can afford my time.”
The ads displayed a picture of the girl, who told Human Trafficking Task Force agents that Augustus took all of her revenue, severely punched and stomped on her when he felt she underperformed, and threatened to kill her family as a way to prompt her return on occasions she’d fled, according to court files.
This month, a federal grand jury indicted Augustus, who was born in 1996.
VIET FILM FEST TO OPEN
The Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) launches its three-day Viet Film Fest on Oct. 11 at the AMC Orange 30 theater, where 42 diverse feature and short films will screen. Opening night showcases director Charlie Nguyen’s romantic comedy My Mr. Wife. Visit www.vietfilmfest.com for schedule and ticket information.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.