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DEFINING CASES: Bugs and sex: Vincent Brothers’ 2007 multiple-murder conviction came down to insect parts and his smugness on the stand

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Vincent Brothers after the Jury's recommendation for the death sentence for his conviction of murder of his family.

Originally published April 3, 2007

BY JESSICA LOGAN, The Bakersfield Californian

Several bugs splattered on Vincent Brothers’ rental car can only be found in the western United States, an insect expert testified Monday. This evidence bolsters the prosecution’s theory that Brothers drove a car he rented during a trip to Ohio back to Bakersfield where the prosecution believes he killed his wife, Joanie Harper; their three children, Marques, Lyndsey and Marshall; and Joanie Harper’s mother, Earnestine.

The other people who rented the car drove mainly around Ohio and to eastern states.

UC Davis entomologist Lynn Kimsey is an expert, particularly in California bugs. She examined the radiator, air filter and other bug samples collected by detectives from the Dodge Neon. The entomologist found a species of paper wasp, two species of true bugs and a very distinctive grasshopper leg. She believes these bugs are located mainly in the western United States.

The bugs could have been splattered on Brothers’ rental car if he drove one of the two major routes between Ohio and California, Kimsey said. But no butterflies were found on the car, which is unusual considering it was driven in the summer, the entomologist said. This indicated the car may not have been driven during the day, she said.

The car did have several moth pieces on it and other night-flying bugs, indicating it was likely driven at night.

The defense questioned the doctor’s expertise when it comes to these bugs.

She published many papers, but none on the bugs in question, although she said she has a paper in the works about the wasp.

Kimsey also said she had limited field work with most of these bugs. She relied on the millions of bugs collected at the museum where she works, consultation from other experts and collections and published papers to determine where these bugs live.

The entomologist did not charge to review the bug specimens on the car, but she will charge $150 an hour for appearing in court.

Kimsey said she didn’t think about charging to review the bugs because she considered the task a challenge.

“It was a new puzzle, sort of a new research area,” Kimsey said.

She was surprised at how intact some of the specimens were.

The prosecution is expected today to call its last big witness — an FBI agent who will explain how he thinks the family was killed.

The defense believes Brothers, who has pleaded not guilty, did not have the time to drive back to California to kill his family, found dead on July 8, 2003.

Originally published May 20, 2007

BY ROBERT PRICE, The Bakersfield Californian

How do you convict a killer who neglects to drop his wallet on the way out the door? How do you bring down a murderer without finding some sort of smoking gun in the trash bin out in back? Without producing the sort of hard, ironclad evidence prosecutors like to wave in front of juries?

You work hard, you hope for a break and then you pounce when it lands in your lap.

That’s what county prosecutor Lisa Green did to newly convicted killer Vincent Brothers.

Brothers, convicted Tuesday of the July 2003 murders of his wife, their three children and his mother-in-law, presented Green with every prosecutor’s dream gift — his personal courtroom testimony.

Green, forced to build a largely circumstantial case around a car rental contract, bug remains, a traffic accident and the estimated drive time between Ohio and California, elicited something from Brothers’ testimony that most likely proved his undoing: his unsettling amorality.

Brothers allowed his almost sociopathic self-confidence to overcome good sense. You don’t spend any more time than necessary discussing your prodigious sexual appetite when the theme of the day is murder — the murder of your wife, who also happens to be the mother of your murdered children.

And you don’t smirk about it.

The turning point in the murder trial was the moment Green asked Brothers to talk about sex — sex with his now-murdered wife, sex with several women who weren’t his wives.

Did Brothers’ sex life have a direct bearing on the murder? No. Did it come to bear in the way jurors saw him? Right or wrong, it almost had to.

“We didn’t have a relationship,” Brothers said of one casual girlfriend. “We just had sex, no agreements. … We call each other and if we feel like having sex, we have sex.”

At one point, asked to describe the happiest day of his life, he talked about the day he married Joanie Harper, the woman he is now convicted of fatally shooting and stabbing.

“Well, actually the night before was the happiest day,” he said. Why? “We had sex.” Anything special about it? “It was fun that night. … We had, uh, food.” And then the smirk.

We’ll have to figure out the “food” comment without Brothers’ help. Point is, a murder defendant who willingly places himself on the witness stand — especially one with Brothers’ admitted proclivity for frequent liaisons with various women in assorted settings — should try to avoid smirking.

Brothers’ defense team had to know questions about sex were coming. They might have laid it all out for the jury before Green had a chance to cross-examine.

Did you sometimes have recreational sex? Yes. Did it have negative effects on the relationships in your life that mattered most to you? Certainly. Do you regret any of it? Of course. Spare us the parking lot sex scenes, and try to act a tad embarrassed if Green brings it up again the next day.

She did, and Brothers was unnervingly matter-of-fact.

The prosecution had more going for it than Brothers’ ill-advised turn on the witness stand, of course. The testimony of the forensic entomologist, who found evidence of Western bugs on a rental car that was never supposed to have left the Midwest, was particularly effective.

In the end the jury convicted Brothers, a former middle-school vice principal, of five counts of first-degree murder — multiple killings that make him eligible for the death penalty.

For that, the victims’ family can thank Lisa Green. And she can thank, among others, Vincent Brothers.

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