DA wants sentence of 34 years to life for Rebecca Grossman in deadly Westlake Village crash

City News Service logo
Friday, June 7, 2024
DA calls for sentence of 34 years to life in Westlake Village crash
Prosecutors are asking a judge to impose the maximum 34-years-to-life prison sentence on socialite Rebecca Grossman for a crash that killed two young boys in Westlake Village.

VAN NUYS, LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Prosecutors are asking a judge to impose the maximum 34-years-to-life term on socialite Rebecca Grossman for a crash that killed two young boys in Westlake Village, while defense attorneys are urging a sentence of either probation or the lower state prison term of just over 12 years for the co- founder of the Grossman Burn Foundation.

Grossman -- who is set to be sentenced Monday in a Van Nuys courtroom - - was convicted Feb. 23 of two counts each of second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one count of hit-and-run driving in connection with the Sept. 29, 2020, deaths of Mark and Jacob Iskander, aged 11 and 8.

Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino ordered the 60-year-old woman to be taken into custody shortly after the verdict was read, rejecting a request by one of her trial attorneys to allow her to remain free on $2 million bond while awaiting sentencing.

In a typed letter submitted with the defense's sentencing brief, Grossman wrote, "... I am not a murderer, and I ask you to recognize that true fact. My pain, my recognition of the pain the Iskanders suffer, and the pain I watch my family endure, are punishments that I already suffer and will for the rest of my life. Please consider this suffering when you consider what more punishment to impose on me in this case."

But Deputy District Attorneys Ryan Gould, Jamie Castro and Habib Balian wrote in their sentencing memorandum that Grossman is "more than deserving" of the maximum sentence.

"The defendant has never shown an ounce of remorse for her choices on September 29, 2020. She has never taken a modicum of responsibility. Instead, she has only blamed others," the prosecutors wrote. "She has blamed the victims, arguing that they were out of the crosswalk, jetted out in front of her car, and that their mother was careless in walking with her children across the street when it was starting to get dark outside."

The prosecutors wrote that she has also blamed her ex-boyfriend, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson, and claimed that he hit the children first "when there was not a shred of evidence to prove this to be true."

"She has lived a life of privilege and clearly felt that her wealth and notoriety would buy her freedom ... This was not a tragic accident as the defense continually states, this was murder," the prosecutors wrote.

In a letter to the boys' parents, Grossman "still refuses to take responsibility for her actions, instead making the letter about her and how the system has failed her," according to the prosecutors.

The deputy district attorneys noted that Grossman wrote in the letter that she now says she remembers seeing a child fall from the air and hit her car, making her "failure to return to the scene even more egregious."

A conflict of interest at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office is impacting how the agency handles the Rebecca Grossman double fatality case.

The deputy district attorneys contended that she "drank alcohol and took valium to the point that she was impaired" before driving and that the evidence presented during her trial indicated that she "accelerated from 73 mph to speeds of 81 mph in a 45 mph zone just two seconds before the collision."

The prosecutors also wrote that Grossman has a "lengthy Vehicle Code violation record" that includes "unsafe speed for the conditions," failure to obey a sign or signal and driving faster than 65 mph.

Defense attorneys James Spertus and Samuel Josephs countered in their sentencing brief, "There was a terrible accident, and Ms. Grossman is responsible for causing the accident, but the offense conduct does not warrant a life sentence or the type of lengthy prison term reserved for the most callous, heinous crimes."

The defense attorneys wrote in their motion that the judge could impose probation with a suspended state prison sentence, writing that "a probationary sentence is the only way to allow her to spend the rest of her life trying to make up for this tragedy." The judge could otherwise sentence her to 12 years and four months on the vehicular manslaughter charges -- instead of sentencing her on the murder charges -- or to run the sentences on the murder counts at the same time as each other since "they involved the same acts, were committed at the same time, in the same place and indicate a single period of aberrant behavior," according to the defense's court filing Wednesday.

Spertus and Josephs wrote that Grossman has been "widely recognized for her work at home and abroad," saying she is a "survivor of childhood trauma and abuse" who had an "inner resilience that enabled her to see beyond her circumstances and find a greater purpose in service to others," including helping a young burn victim from Afghanistan to whom she and her husband became legal guardians and leading the Grossman Burn Foundation to help medically indigent and low-income families "connect to life-changing burn resources that would otherwise be out of reach."

In the letter submitted with the defense's filing, Grossman wrote, "My involvement in the tragic accident that resulted in the death of Mark and Jacob haunts me every day, and I can only imagine the pain that (the boys' parents) Nancy and Karim Iskander feel minute by minute. I will carry my pain for the rest of my life, and know it is a small fraction of the pain the Iskanders must endure. I feel their loss to the core of my being."

The defendant wrote that she penned a letter and left roses at the scene of the crash, and she has "replayed the events of that day again and again, retracing my steps, knowing there were many things that could have made a difference and prevented the accident," but maintained that she "was not driving under the influence of alcohol or impaired, and I was not racing" and didn't see anyone in the road.

"From the very beginning, the facts have been distorted and misrepresented, turning the tragic accident into murder and me into a cold- blooded killer," Grossman wrote,

The defense attorneys' sentencing brief also includes letters from more than 30 of her supporters, including her husband, Peter, who urged the judge to "consider a sentence that focuses on rehabilitation over retribution," and her 19-year-old daughter, Alexis, describing her as "the most selfless, kindhearted, loving, compassionate woman I know," and her son, Nick, who wrote that "her world revolves around helping others."

At a hearing Monday, the judge rejected a motion for a new trial that was filed by her current attorneys, who replaced the team of lawyers that represented her during the trial.

The judge rejected a number of contentions from Grossman's new legal team, including a claim that jurors should not have heard about a 2013 speeding ticket Grossman received from a California Highway Patrol officer who testified that she told him she hoped he never needed the services of the Grossman Burn Center.

Julie Cohen, a friend of the victims' family, told reporters Monday, "We're very pleased that there is no new trial, and sentencing will be next Monday. And hopefully, we will after almost four years be out of this court system and begin this process of healing and doing good deeds in Mark and Jacob's name."

Jurors deliberated for a total of about nine hours before rejecting then-defense attorney Tony Buzbee's contention that Erickson, who was driving a black Mercedes-Benz SUV just ahead of Grossman's vehicle, struck the boys first.

Prosecutors said the boys were crossing the street with their family in a marked crosswalk when they were hit by Grossman's white Mercedes-Benz SUV and that she continued driving and eventually stopped about a quarter-mile away from the scene when her vehicle's engine stopped running. Gould told jurors in his closing argument that debris from the crash matched Grossman's vehicle and there was "not a shred" of evidence that Erickson struck the children.

The victims' mother, Nancy Iskander, was in tears after the first guilty verdict was announced.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse in February, she said she bears no hatred for Grossman and said it was heartbreaking to see the defendant taken away in handcuffs.

She said she felt like she was attending her sons' funeral every day she came to court for the trial.

"It (the trial) wasn't easy, but it will bring me closure," she said then.

"We're very thankful, and it's now time to do good in the name of Mark and Jacob," said Nancy Iskander.