Rebecca Grossman trial goes to jury with central question: Murderer or scapegoat?

VAN NUYS, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Rebecca Grossman, center, with her husband, Dr. Peter Grossman, left, and daughter heads to Van Nuys Courthouse West Van Nuys, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Rebecca Grossman heads to Van Nuys Courthouse West with her husband, Peter Grossman, and daughter, Alexis. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The trial of Rebecca Grossman in the killing of two young brothers went to the jury Thursday. In closing arguments, jurors were presented with two very different versions of the Hidden Hills woman.

Prosecutors said Grossman was an impaired motorist who committed murder and manipulated her teen daughter into defending her on the witness stand. The defense said she is a scapegoat whose famous lover ran into two young brothers in a Westlake Village crosswalk and got away with it.

"This was not a tragic accident," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jamie Castro of the deaths of Mark and Jacob Iskander, ages 11 and 8. "This was murder."

Read more: Rebecca Grossman, accused of killing two boys with her SUV, will not testify in her trial

But Grossman's lead attorney, Tony Buzbee, launched into his closing statement with words he'd repeated throughout the six-week trial: "Where is Scott Erickson?"

Prosecutors allege Grossman, 60, had cocktails with Erickson, a former Dodgers pitcher, and then raced with him — he in his black Mercedes SUV and she in her white Mercedes SUV — along Triunfo Canyon Road until they reached a crosswalk, where she fatally struck the Iskander brothers.

Grossman 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. If convicted of all charges, she faces 34 years to life in prison.

To secure a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors 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.

Castro argued the prosecution had done just that. Grossman, Castro said, showed conscious disregard for human life and knew her speed could be dangerous on a suburban street with pedestrian traffic because she had been warned of the dangers by police in the past. Prosecutors also have alleged that Grossman traveled a third of a mile after slamming into the children before safety features in her car automatically shut it down.

"She had a history of speeding. She'd texted about it," Castro said. "She acted with disregard for human life."

But Buzbee continued to point the finger at Erickson, who was the first to barrel through the crosswalk. Crash reconstruction experts for the defense have testified that Erickson's Mercedes hit the boys first, sending Mark over his vehicle and onto the hood of Grossman's vehicle.

"If you have doubt that the black car hit one of those children, this case is over," said Buzbee, who reminded jurors that Erickson allegedly lied to authorities about the vehicle he was driving. He said it was a 2007 Mercedes SUV, but defense experts testified based on video a short distance from the collision that it was a 2016 AMG Mercedes, a vehicle that authorities never inspected.

Castro, however, told jurors that — although Erickson was reckless — there was "not a shred of evidence" that he struck Mark or his brother.

"He almost hit them but did not hit them," Castro said.

It was around 7 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2020, when Nancy Iskander and her three sons approached the crosswalk. Wearing inline skates, Iskander began to cross Triunfo Canyon Road at Saddle Mountain Drive. Her youngest son, Zachary, was next to her on his scooter; Mark, on a skateboard, and Jacob, also wearing inline skates, were also in the crosswalk.

"The mother did everything right," Castro said. "Rebecca Grossman did everything wrong."

Iskander previously testified that she heard revving engines and looked up to see a black sport utility vehicle speeding toward the intersection. She dove out of the way, pulling Zachary to safety.

Read more: 'I wish I had not looked away': Grossman's texts show she was distracted before crash

But she testified that a white Mercedes SUV was following closely behind the black vehicle. When it went through the crosswalk, Iskander said, she heard an impact, and her two oldest boys were gone.

Jacob was found near the curb about 50 feet from the crosswalk. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a few hours later. Mark's body was found 254 feet away.

Grossman is accused of reaching 81 mph before lightly braking and hitting the brothers at 73 mph, based on the car’s data recorder and the distance Mark was found from the crosswalk. But Buzbee called in experts who testified that the data weren't reliable and that Grossman was traveling at 52 mph based on a video captured seconds after the collision.

Even after the impact, Castro said, Grossman "continued to drive as far as her car would let her."

Although Grossman told a Mercedes operator and 911 dispatcher that she didn't know what happened, only that her airbag had deployed, Castro said a text Grossman sent to a friend in 2022 showed "she was not honest." In that text, presented earlier in the trial, Grossman wrote she had turned her head for two or three seconds and was distracted by Nancy Iskander, who was falling on her inline skates.

"The defendant is either lying or clearly impaired," Castro said.

The prosecutor pushed back on the defense theory that Erickson struck the brothers first, saying the front-end damage to Grossman's vehicle was not "the result of a child landing on the hood."

Read more: Defense in Grossman murder trial keeps ex-Dodger Scott Erickson the center of attention

Castro reminded jurors that pathologist Matthew Miller, who conducted the autopsy, testified that the boys' injuries were consistent with a single vehicle hitting them.

"This is not the Scott Erickson trial It is the Rebecca Grossman trial," Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Gould told the jurors.

Buzbee countered, however, that Miller in what he considered the strongest indication of reasonable doubt had also acknowledged the “possibility” that the boys could have been hit by more than one car.

Buzbee focused on flaws in the investigation, presenting a visual on the TV monitor with an L.A. County sheriff's badge and the words "amateur hour." He said investigators lost five of eight pieces of evidence from the crash scene and didn't speak to Erickson. He said investigators ignored other cars on surveillance video and focused on Grossman: "They had a busted-up car, and the blinders were on."

"This is an accident," Buzbee insisted, saying the medical examiner had termed it as such, and not a homicide, "on the front of their report. ... Their star forensic pathologist said, 'I cannot rule it out that Mark was hit by more than one vehicle.'"

Castro conceded there were shortcomings in the investigation by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department — with evidence missing and few photos of the scene. But during the trial, a former California Highway Patrol officer turned crash expert was able to re-create the scene.

Read more: Grossman's daughter testifies Scott Erickson threatened her after she saw him hiding near fatal crash scene

The deputy district attorney also repudiated testimony from Grossman's daughter, Alexis, who told jurors on Friday that she saw Erickson hiding behind a tree near where her mother was detained and that he later angrily burst into her family's home in Westlake Village. She said he smelled of alcohol and threatened to "ruin" her and her family if she told anyone she saw him.

"Alexis is a victim of her mother's manipulation," Castro said, noting that a deputy at the scene testified he never saw Erickson and that no one there reported his presence.

Buzbee stood behind the 19-year-old's testimony, asking jurors, "Why did [Erickson] lie? Why did he make threats?"

Castro stressed in her closing argument the testimony by eyewitnesses. She reminded jurors that one witness, Susan Manners, testified that she saw Grossman's vehicle hit Mark. Yasamin Eftekhari and Jake Sands, who were driving in a car behind Grossman's Mercedes, testified that they saw the white car hit Jacob. Eftekhari, Castro noted, testified the black car never hit the boys.

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

The defense played up the inconsistencies in testimony — differences among witnesses on what lanes the impacts occurred in, and how many impacts were seen or heard. Buzbee used as a visual aid an image of cherry-picking. "This is what you call doubt," he said.

The attorney said that prosecutors "want us to explain the inconsistencies."

"But," he said, "the truth is Erickson hit those kids first, so none of this really matters."

Jury deliberations are set to begin Thursday.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.