Crime, She Writes

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Seeking Justice for Dawn

Chef Who Slow-Cooked his Wife Prepares to Represent Himself at his Sentencing

David Viens police mugshot
The evidence against convicted killer David Viens in the 2009 death of his wife Dawn is damning. And disturbing. It took more than two years to put the case against Viens together and another year to land a conviction.

Viens recently appeared in a Los Angeles courthouse in what was to be his sentencing for the murder of his wife of 15 years, Dawn Marie Viens. Instead, Viens fired his court-appointed attorney and asked Judge Rand Rubin to allow him to represent himself.

“You will be up against a district attorney who has gone to law school,” the judge told Viens. “You haven’t gone to law school. (But ) I will treat you like I treat attorneys."

Viens, a chef and former co-owner with his late wife Dawn of Thyme Contemporary Café in Lomita, California, said he understood. With that, the judge ruled: “You are now counsel of record.”

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Viens will appear as his own attorney on February 1 and, as promised by the judge, face seasoned Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Debra Brazil as Viens is expected to make his case for the lenient side of 15 years to life in prison.

While Viens has successfully stalled his sentencing, there's no reversing, at least at this juncture, the evidence against him.

Dawn vanished in October 2009, which is when friends last saw her leaving the couple's restaurant. She left her car behind but took her Louis Vuitton purse with her. David did not report his wife’s disappearance. Instead, just days later, he moved his new girlfriend into the couple’s home and tossed his wife’s clothing and belongings into a Dumpster behind the café. Three weeks later, concerned friends reported 39-year-old Dawn as missing.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies considered the husband a person of interest, but they didn’t have enough to go on. Then, during a drive on the Southern California coast with his girlfriend, Viens pulled over and the pair argued on the side of the road. Sheriff’s deputies were alerted and, in an apparent panic at being approached by law enforcement, Viens, now 49, leaped off an 80-foot cliff to the sand below. He survived.

After weeks in a coma as he recovered from multiple broken bones and internal injuries, Viens awakened and, from his hospital bed, confessed to deputies that he had killed his wife. They still, however, did not know what became of Dawn’s body.

It took several months longer, but during a second interview with Viens, police tape recorded a second confession, which was first revealed publicly when it was played to the jury during the trial. It was a stunning admission: Viens, in a matter-of-fact voice, described getting rid of his wife’s body by stuffing it in a 55-gallon drum of water, holding it down with weights, and boiling it in his restaurant. "I just slowly cooked it," he can be heard saying in the recording, "and I ended up cooking her for four days."

He bagged the bones and tossed them along with the trash.

In addition to that startling confession, detectives had confronted Viens' adult daughter, Jacqueline, who later testified that after her step-mother went missing, her father told her he had hog-tied Dawn and taped her mouth closed. By morning, Dawn had choked and died, the daughter testified. Jacqueline Viens also told the jury that she had, at her father's request, texted a message from Dawn’s cell phone shortly after her step-mother's disappearance, stating in the text that Dawn needed a break and was on vacation.

It was what detectives had been looking for. Armed with Viens' two recorded confessions and the daughter’s damaging statements, police had enough to send the case to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.

A jury last September found David Viens guilty of second-degree murder. The only thing left was for the judge to sentence him, during which family members had planned to publicly address Viens. But Viens, in firing his attorney, successfully delayed his sentencing.

“I think most of us were expecting David to pull the stunt he pulled today,” said Dawn’s sister, Dayna Papin, after the court ruling.

Her father Michael Papin told reporters after the hearing that he had gone to court looking for closure. “It’s been a long three years,” said Papin, who traveled from his home in Florida to attend, “and (David) is going to try and make it last as long as possible. Justice for Dawn will have to wait for another day."

Cathy Scott is a true crime author, journalist and blogger based in Las Vegas and San Diego.

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