After hearing evidence that a former sailor’s DNA was found at a 1990 fatal stabbing scene amid clothing of a gay sailor, a judge ordered the former sailor to stand trial for murder.
Brian Scott Koehl, now 52 and from Tennessee, was 19 years old in San Diego when he allegedly killed Larry Joe Breen, 32, who was stationed aboard the USS Fox CG-33 at the time.
Additionally, Koehl’s bare footprint was found and preserved from the shower where Breen lived in Point Loma at the time, according to testimony. There was a lot of blood in the residence and the killer may have used the shower to rinse off.
After hearing testimony for 1 1/2 days in a March preliminary hearing, San Diego Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz found there was enough evidence to justify a murder trial and set it for July 11. Koehl pleaded not guilty.
A surprise witness included the best man at Koehl’s wedding who said that Koehl confessed to him in 1992 to killing a gay sailor “who came on to me.” The witness, Douglas Jones, testified “he said he stabbed him 19 times…(and) made sure he was dead.”
“Half of me was shocked. Half of me didn’t want to believe it,” said Jones, who added that Koehl told him he wiped his fingerprints off everything before stealing the dead sailor’s car.
Jones said Koehl brought up the subject by saying “I killed somebody” while they were both drinking at a bar and were outside at the time.
“He came out naked and started rubbing me,” Jones quoted Koehl as telling him. “A little faggot came on to me,” Jones said Koehl said. He described Koehl as “homophobic.”
“He said the blood was slippery and the knife cut his hand,” said Jones, who added that Koehl said he had a scar from the wound.
Jones said he eventually told his wife at the time, and they attempted to report the homicide, which Jones thought occurred in San Francisco.
Jones testified he only learned of the prosecution in this case when Breen’s sister contacted Jones’ wife and was seeking a character letter from him to send to a judge about bail. Jones added he declined to send such a letter.
Breen was found without clothing and deceased in the backyard of a home at the corner of Nimitz Boulevard and Locust Street on May 25, 1990. He was stabbed twice in the neck and lost a lot of blood.
Investigators in the case got a hit using genetic genealogy in which forensic genealogists matched DNA from the crime scene to relatives of Koehl who uploaded their DNA into public databases.
Testimony showed that NCIS agents watched Koehl in Tenn. and retrieved an Arby’s soda container that he drank out of and discarded. His DNA was confirmed in the lab as matching that of the killer, according to criminalist David Cornacchia.
A retired pathologist for San Diego County, Dr. Leena Jariwala, testified from a wheelchair and she also looked at her report that she wrote in 1990 after she conducted the autopsy.
Jariwala said the two neck wounds caused Breen’s death and said, “the death would be very quick” because of the “extensive injury to the blood vessels.”
She told attorneys she remembered the case, adding “I went to the scene.” Someone asked her age and she replied, “75 plus.”
Jariwala said Breen had a blood/alcohol level of .15 at the time of his death, which meant he was intoxicated. His jugular vein was severed, and he had wounds on his legs and arms, she said.
Cornacchia testified Koehl’s DNA was found on empty beer bottles in Breen’s home along with a blood stain on the wall. Also, Koehl’s DNA was found on the inside of Breen’s jeans, a sock, and a white T-shirt at the scene, said Cornacchia.
Detective Lori Adams testified a bare footprint preserved in Breen’s shower was saved and it matches the left foot of Koehl that was taken after he was arrested in Knoxville, Tenn.
Adams also said other suspects were eliminated over the years in DNA tests.
“Mr. Breen was running for his life,” said Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox as she summed up the case. “There were numerous wounds all over his body. The DNA links this defendant to this crime.”
Koehl’s attorney, Alicia Freeze, told the judge “There is no one who independently can say what happened 33 years ago.” She described the “shoddy investigation in 1990” by police doesn’t show who the killer is, adding her client’s fingerprints were not found at the crime scene.
“The court feels the evidence presented far exceeds the burden (by the prosecutor),” said Katz, who added that Jones was “a very compelling witness.”
After Koehl was ordered to stand trial, the prosecutor asked the judge to remand him to jail without bail, saying the $500,000 bond he is on is insufficient.
“He has been 33 years on the run. There is no greater flight risk than that,” said Fox.
Freeze asked the judge to allow Koehl to remain free on bond, saying he has made all his court appearances, was cooperative and has “a life in Knoxville” where he lives with his wife.
Katz agreed that Koehl should remain free on $500,000 bond but ordered Koehl to have no contact with Jones.
Koehl waived his right to have a speedy trial.