LOS ANGELES – She would be a young woman now, but instead Lauren Sarene Key is forever the 4-year-old girl who never returned from a visit to the shore with her father.
Nearly 15 years after the girl plunged to her death from a 120-foot seaside cliff, her father was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for her murder.
Jurors found Cameron Brown, 53, a former airline baggage handler, guilty of hurling the girl from Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes in November 2000 amid a bitter custody dispute with her mother.
The first-degree murder conviction in May came about a dozen years after Brown was arrested and followed two previous trials when jurors decided the death was a crime, but they couldn't agree whether it was murder or manslaughter.
Brown told police the girl tripped and fell as she ran toward the cliff.
Defense lawyer Aron Laub said Brown was a bad father, but not a murderer. Laub disputed testimony by a prosecution expert that showed a girl her age wouldn't have been able to run fast enough to land where she did in the rocky ocean below. He asked jurors to convict Brown of manslaughter.
Brown and the girl's mother, Sarah Key-Marer, had a short-lived romance that soured when she got pregnant.
Brown wanted Key-Marer to get an abortion, and he even tried to get her deported to her British homeland, Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said.
Hatred toward his ex-girlfriend was the key motive, though there was evidence that Brown was also trying to get out of costly child support payments, Hum said.
A witness came forward at the third trial who testified that Brown said it would be "nice to get rid of Lauren" to avoid $1,000-a-month payments.
Because jurors also found Brown killed the girl for financial gain and that he lay in wait, he faces a mandatory term of life without parole.
Key-Marer is expected to show up for the sentencing.
"All I ever wanted was that he would take responsibility for that day," she said after the verdict was announced.
After she left the courtroom that day weeping, however, Brown told the judge he was innocent.