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Cold case murder defendant takes stand

Self-represented man gives narrative to jurors

VICTORVILLE • A 78-year-old lawyer accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend's daughter in 1989 took the stand in his own trial Monday and denied the allegation.

Eric Francis Fagan gave a narrative to the jury instead of responding to his defense attorney’s questions because he had fired his attorney earlier in the trial. Fagan began representing himself in the cold case, in which he could virtually face life in prison if he is convicted.

Fagan is accused of shooting 32-year- old Cathy Paternoster to death in Spring Valley Lake. Prosecutors said Fagan’s motive for the killing was to get custody of Paternoster’s daughters.

Investigators suspected Fagan from the beginning, but they didn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest 23 years ago. Fagan claimed he was in Santa Ana with his girlfriend at the time of the shooting.

The Sheriff's Cold Case Unit reopened the case in 2008 after a latex glove recovered just two blocks away from the crime scene in 1989 had DNA that matched Fagan’s. Fagan was arrested in October 2009 outside his Chula Vista home.

Fagan began his narrative by explaining his personal background.

After going to school in Boston, Fagan joined the Navy at 21 years old, he said. He served a tour of duty in San Diego before he got married and had children. He got divorced and attended law school at 40 years old while working fulltime as an engineer. He became a private civil attorney in 1978.

Fagan then addressed issues raised in the trial, flipping through index cards. He eloquently told his story, sometimes expressing emotions. Deputy District Attorney John Thomas didn’t make any objections throughout the narrative.

The defendant accused Detective Casey Jiles of tampering with the evidence by rubbing his DNA and gun residue on the glove. Jiles denied it.

Fagan testified he bought a box of latex gloves years before the shooting took place. He used them once to change oil, Fagan said.

Witnesses saw a man with a beard shoot the victim, and Fagan’s son told investigators the defendant had bought a fake beard at a costume store.

Fagan testified he bought a mustache to wear in his office for fun, but told the jury he didn’t remember buying the beard.

He bought two guns before the victim’s death because people at the time were buying guns due to the rumors of gun control.

“Did I kill Cathy Paternoster? Absolutely not,” Fagan told the jury.

Fagan was accused of molesting the victim’s 5- and 11-year-old daughters and trying to kidnap the younger one.

He vehemently denied molesting the children. But he admitted that he tried to come up with a plan for his ex-girlfriend to disappear with the 5-year-old granddaughter. But he said he gave it up after another attorney told him the ex-girlfriend could be charged with abduction.

“He said it was the stupidest thing he’d heard of,” Fagan said.

In cross-examination, Thomas told Fagan that evidence seemed to indicate the defendant shot the victim.

Fagan raised his voice and said he would prove otherwise in his closing argument.

“You just haven’t paid close attention to your evidence, John,” Fagan said.

The trial will resume Tuesday.

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