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'Where is Scott Erickson?' Defense in Grossman murder trial seeks to pin blame on ex-Dodger

VAN NUYS, CA - JANUARY 23: Rebecca Grossman, right, holding her husband Peter Grossman exits Van Nuys Courthouse West on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024 in Van Nuys, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Rebecca Grossman, right, holds her husband Peter's arm as she exits Van Nuys Courthouse West on Jan. 23. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Sitting on the stand during Rebecca Grossman's murder trial this week, witness after witness was asked an unusual question.

After the hit-and-run killing of two boys in Westlake Village, did you see a 6-foot-4, 250-pound man hiding in the bushes, watching the investigation?

Looking puzzled, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Cody Gaudet replied he had never seen such a person and there weren't many bushes on Triunfo Canyon Road, where the fatal crash occurred.

"That would be a concern if we had," he said.

Read more: Memories of mayhem, graphic images in trial of socialite accused of running over 2 boys

That description happens to fit Scott Erickson, a former Dodgers pitcher and Grossman's onetime lover. Erickson was driving a black Mercedes SUV a short distance ahead of Grossman when prosecutors allege she hit and killed Mark and Jacob Iskander, 11 and 8, in a crosswalk on Sept. 29, 2020.

Grossman, 60, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death. Prosecutors allege she sought to flee the scene in her heavily damaged Mercedes when the SUV’s safety system made the vehicle inoperable, about a third of a mile beyond the crosswalk.

Grossman's lead attorney, Tony Buzbee, has throughout the trial taken every opportunity to argue it was Erickson's black SUV — not his client's white Mercedes — that first struck the children.

He also claimed to jurors that Erickson hid in some nearby after the crash to watch the aftermath unfold.

Buzbee told jurors “she did not do anything, but someone else did,” adding that authorities never examined Erickson’s vehicle after the deadly incident.

Read more: Rebecca Grossman said in the ER she would be home if Mercedes hadn't disabled her car, EMT testifies

The boys' mother, Nancy Iskander, has testified that Erickson's black SUV never hit her sons — but could have killed her and her 5-year-old son, Zachary, if she hadn't dived out of the way and pulled him to safety in the bike lane.

"I know she killed them," she testified, saying she has no doubt it was the white SUV she now knows was driven by Grossman that fatally struck her two sons.

During opening statements, Grossman's defense team asserted that Erickson's vehicle struck the children first, flipping one of the boys into the air before he bounced off Grossman’s vehicle, causing front-end damage.

Buzbee has pointed to the testimony of one witness, Susan Manners, who said she saw Mark tossed into the air but did not see him land.

Two women embrace outside of a courthouse.
Nancy Iskander, left, is consoled by a friend outside Van Nuys Courthouse West. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

But when Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Gould showed Nancy Iskander a defense digital re-creation depicting that scenario, she declared it to be "complete science fiction."

"I wouldn't have missed that, Mark going up in the sky," she said.

Buzbee followed up, asking whether she had seen the moment her children were killed. Iskander replied that "it was too fast," but added, "If someone else did it, I would have said it."

Erickson was initially charged with misdemeanor reckless driving after the 2020 crash, but that was dismissed after he made a public service announcement about the importance of safe driving.

His lawyer, Mark Werksman, said he does not plan to address the issues being raised in the Grossman trial, but added, "This may change over the course of the coming days [or] weeks."

Read more: Was it murder? Jury to hear gripping testimony about deaths of 2 boys in trial of L.A. socialite

Three eyewitnesses to the deadly incident testified that they saw one but not both boys hit by the white SUV or a light-colored vehicle.

Jake Sands and Yasamin Eftekhari, who were driving on Triunfo Canyon Road at the time, said they saw Mercedes SUVs — one black, one white — speeding toward the crosswalk, changing lanes like they were competing. The white vehicle sent Jacob flying to the right curb, they said, and Sands testified that he didn't hear an impact when the black SUV passed through the crosswalk.

The pair described Grossman as driving 80 mph or more on the street, where the posted speed limit is 45 mph.

However, Sands — a self-described car guy — wrongly said Grossman's standard white Mercedes was a high-powered AMG model. Prosecutors also called several other witnesses who described hearing roaring engines and seeing from a distance vehicles traveling at tremendous speed.

Read more: Debris found in crosswalk where 2 boys were killed came from white Mercedes, deputy testifies

Deputy Rafael Mejia testified that he found Grossman's SUV stopped three-tenths of a mile from the marked crosswalk. The vehicle was powered down by its safety system because its airbags deployed, court records show.

Mejia testified that he found Grossman standing in front of the vehicle, which had visible front-end damage, including a buckled fender on the passenger side that sheriff's officials photographed.

"She told me her vehicle was disabled by Mercedes-Benz and her airbags went off, and she did not know what was going on," Mejia said. "She said she hit something, but she didn't know what she hit."

Mejia said parts of Grossman's white Mercedes, including two emblems, were found at the crash scene, but investigators found no parts from other vehicles.

Mejia also said that he saw what appeared to be blood spatter on Grossman's vehicle, but that he did not have the material analyzed.

Prior to the crash, Grossman and Erickson had been drinking cocktails at a nearby restaurant, Julio's Agave Grill, according to court records. Grossman was separated from her husband, Peter, at the time.

Joining them was another retired baseball player, Royce Clayton, who testified that Erickson drank two margaritas and Grossman one. They all agreed to meet afterward at Grossman's home and watch a presidential debate, he said.

Clayton, now the baseball coach at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, testified that he never went to Grossman's home because he learned of the crash after speaking with Erickson by phone a few hours later. When asked whether he was still friends with Erickson, who has denied any wrongdoing, the former All-Star shortstop said, "No."

"I have kids. ... I just don't understand how he could be so negligent and be responsible for running down kids," Clayton said.

Read more: Tearful mom describes horror as car sped through intersection, killing her 2 sons

The remark ignited such concern that Clayton asked to be put back on the witness stand to make clear he was not implicating Erickson.

After strong objections from Grossman's legal team, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino on Thursday said prosecutors could not recall Clayton. Clayton left the courthouse loudly complaining to an attorney that he wanted the jury to understand his words.

Prosecutors have not charged Grossman with driving under the influence, but a criminalist testified Friday that blood work taken three hours after the crash registered her blood alcohol level at 0.08%. She also had Valium in her system at the time of the fatal incident, prosecutors allege.

Jurors repeatedly watched video of a sobriety test given to Grossman, though Deputy Michael Kelley conceded that he did not follow exact national standards, including requiring that she walk a line and timing her during a one-legged stand.

But prosecutors don't need to show she was impaired. To get a second-degree murder conviction, Gould and fellow Deputy Dist. Atty. Jamie Castro must prove that Grossman acted with implied malice and knew the act of driving at a high speed in a residential area was dangerous to human life.

Read more: Rebecca Grossman trial: Lawyer says police didn't check other car in crash that killed 2 brothers

Next week, prosecutors plan to present evidence from a black-box data recorder that a deputy previously testified shows Grossman reached up to 81 mph moments before the crash.

Buzbee, however, said that his experts will show the data are unreliable and corrupted.

The defense plans to call Alexis Grossman, the defendant's daughter, to testify she saw Erickson in the bushes after the crash. Grossman's team will also need to substantiate a claim made during opening statements that Erickson was driving a 2016 AMG Mercedes SUV with a V8 engine, not a 2007 Mercedes SUV as he told authorities.

Buzbee in pretrial motions sought approval to enter photos of the 2016 vehicle into the record.

"We are far ahead of where we thought we would be at this point, mainly because of the evidence elicited during cross-examination of almost every witness," he told The Times.

"We look forward to presenting our side of the case at some point. Where is Scott Erickson?"

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.