Brian Scott Koehl, shipmate of Navy sailor found guilty in his murder
by Neal Putnam
A jury convicted a man of second-degree murder Oct. 19, in the stabbing death of a gay sailor 33 years ago at his Point Loma home in a case solved by DNA.
After 2 1/2 days of deliberations, the 10-man, two-woman jury filed in at 4:15 pm Oct. 19 and a clerk read their finding that Brian Scott Koehl, now 52, was guilty of killing Larry Joe Breen, 32, who was a Navy cook aboard the USS Fox (CG-33).
Koehl bowed his head and then turned around and looked at his wife, Elizabeth Koehl, in the audience, who was crying softly. After several minutes passed, a sheriff’s deputy told Koehl to turn around and face San Diego Superior Court Judge Kimberlee Lagotta.
Koehl had been free on a $500,000 bond, but Lagotta remanded him to jail immediately after the jury was dismissed, without waiting for attorneys to address his custody status.
Koehl testified Oct. 13 that he had killed Breen. “I saw Larry giving me a blow job,” adding, “I got mad and kicked him off.” Koehl said he recalled saying, “Get the f— off me!”
He claimed Breen grabbed a knife in one hand and forcibly orally copulated Koehl, who admitted both of them were naked after they had drank numerous beers. Koehl said he grabbed the knife from Breen, slicing his jugular vein, and stabbed him again in the neck.
Sentencing is set for Nov. 17. Koehl faces 15 years to life for the murder plus one year consecutively because the jury found he used a deadly weapon, a knife, in the attack.
“The jury worked really hard and did the right thing,” said Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox afterward. “I’m so relieved.
“NCIS and San Diego Police never gave up on this case,” Fox said.
The prosecutor said Breen’s parents are deceased, but he has some sisters and other relatives who are alive and she called them about the verdict.
In her closing argument, Fox told jurors, “This is not a trial of whether he is homophobic – this is a trial of whether he killed Larry Breen.”
Fox did not make a motion to immediately remand Koehl into custody, saying, “If you’ve been convicted of second-degree murder, you don’t get out on bail.”
Koehl’s attorney, Alicia Freeze, who had argued for acquittal to jurors, said afterward that she was surprised at the verdict.
“I’m shocked,” Freeze said. “I think it was a pretty clear self-defense case. My client’s a good guy. He has no record. I think he testified truthfully.
“I think he was very honest when he testified,” she added.
Freeze said she didn’t ask for her client to remain free on bond because it was clear the judge was going to remand him to jail.
All jurors left the courthouse immediately and no one stuck around to discuss their verdict. Most of the jurors appeared to be in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Jurors had acquitted Koehl of first-degree murder on Oct. 19. They turned in a note on Oct. 18, saying they could not reach a unanimous guilty verdict on that charge, and the judge read an instruction that said they could consider second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Koehl was arrested in July, 2022 in Knoxville, Tennessee, following a long investigation. He and his wife have three children.
Freeze told jurors he was 19 years old at the time and was a “small town boy from Ohio” when he arrived in San Diego as a young sailor. Koehl himself said he was flattered when Breen befriended him by having lunch with him at Horton Plaza and other places.
“I don’t have a problem with people being gay,” Koehl testified.
Koehl said he never perceived that Breen was gay until he woke up and discovered he was being orally copulated by him. Koehl said he had been drinking and tried to get up, but Breen pushed him down.
On cross examination, Fox displayed Koehl’s wrestling pictures from high school and college over 6-7 years and asked him if he used his wrestling skills to overcome Breen.
“It may have saved my life,” replied Koehl, adding, “I didn’t use my wrestling skills. I used survival skills.”
Koehl testified that Breen produced a knife and continued to orally copulate him against his will, but Koehl overpowered him and grabbed the knife. He said he stabbed him and Breen escaped through a window.
Breen’s jugular vein was severed and the crime scene was very bloody, with Fox telling jurors, “Larry Breen left his story behind on those walls.” His nude, bloodied body was found lying next to the backyard fence at the apartment at the corner of Nimitz Boulevard and Locust Street on May 25, 1990.
Koehl said he remembered “that last stab” when Breen stopped fighting him outside. He claimed that Breen “was going to kill me.” Koehl’s attorney argued that he had suffered “a traumatic assault, a nightmare.”
“His eyes were so big, so animalistic. The sound he made, if you could imagine, the widest eyes possible,” described Koehl.
“He was fighting like a wounded animal. He was constantly reaching for the knife,” Koehl said. “I stabbed him. It haunts me to this day. I didn’t want to do it.”
Jurors re-heard the testimony of Douglas Jones, who was the best man at Koehl’s wedding, and testified that Koehl suddenly confessed to killing a man who had made a sexual pass at him years earlier. Jones did not know what state or city the event occurred in and testified that Koehl told him he stabbed the man 19 times–something that Koehl disputed when he testified.
The knife Koehl talked about was never found. Breen was in the process of moving into the apartment and had no silverware or furniture in the unit.
Deputy District Attorney Fox told jurors Koehl’s story was “made up” and that “he’s lying to you now.” She noted there was no trash found in the apartment and asked Koehl to describe the knife. He said he couldn’t after 33 years.
The prosecutor mentioned that Koehl weighed 150 pounds and was 5 feet 9 inches at age 19 and Breen was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds at the time.
Koehl accidently cut himself with the knife and left his blood stains in several places. His blood was saved and a DNA profile was obtained. He also left his DNA on beer bottles. He testified he washed himself off in the shower, and his bare footprint was also preserved, which later matched his footprint.
Koehl’s DNA was found on the inside of one of Breen’s socks, the inside waistline of Breen’s pants, and his T-shirt, Fox said. Koehl said he had no explanation for that, but he did find Breen’s car keys and drove himself back to his barracks in Coronado that night. He drove the car back to Point Loma and left it a mile from where Breen was killed, he said.
Elizabeth Koehl was called as a defense witness and she said her husband told her “a weirdo” came on to him sexually and “he pushed him away” some years ago, but that she didn’t know the full story.
When her husband was arrested, Elizabeth Koehl said she was astonished, and the prosecutor played a tape of what her husband first told her in jail about the incident.
“I was 19 years old. We had a little party,” said Brian Koehl in the 2022 tape recording from jail. “I walked into a murder.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked his wife.
“I thought I did,” replied Koehl.
Elizabeth Koehl testified her husband was honorably discharged from the Navy and they had been married for 26 years.
Koehl remains in the George Bailey Detention Facility without bail.