Lord of the Lies

Page 7 of 9

On August 29, 2002, Glendale police learned from a partner of Mike Kimerer's that "a new hit had been ordered on witness (and attorney) Sheldon Sherman."

This time, according to Owens, the instigator of the murder allegedly wasn't the incarcerated Mark Branon. It was Branon's 27-year-old wife, Shawna.

A few weeks after that, Detective Lowe got more news: Bob Owens was saying through attorney Mike Kimerer that Shawna Branon now claimed to have hired a contract killer from Ireland and had $10,000 in cash on hand to pay for the Sherman hit.

"Bob told me that he needed $10,000 in cash to do more investigation right away," Shawna Branon tells New Times. "He told me there were tapes of me talking to Mark at the prison about money and that I was about to be arrested on conspiracy charges. Totally had me going."

On the morning of September 15, 2002, Detective Bruce Lowe paged Bob Owens. The timing was intentional, but Owens didn't know that at the time.

When Owens returned the call 30 minutes later, he said he'd just hung up the phone with Shawna Branon, according to police transcripts obtained by New Times. He said Shawna had provided him more details of her alleged plot to have attorney Sheldon Sherman killed.

Owens said he'd taped the conversation from his office at Edifice Lex, and played it over the phone for the detective:

"It's Shawna. I need help. I'm so scared. I just got a letter from Mark. . . . Mark talks about some guy Donnell and how he missed Billie and hit her brother, then he got caught in San Diego right before he hit Sherman. . . . Bob, he is totally out of control! He said he's gonna whack Debus now! Am I next? Who am I supposed to tell, what am I supposed to do? I can't say anything to anybody. He will kill me!"

Owens told Detective Lowe that the Irishman was only going to provide passports for the Branons' escape from the country.

The real killer, Owens said, was to be a San Diego man named "Lalo."

Lowe asked Owens if he had told Larry Debus about the alleged death threat against him. Owens said he had.

Owens said he'd been working as an informant with DEA on another case when the Rosen shooting happened. That's why he'd gone to that agency first about Mark Branon's possible involvement in the Rosen case.

A few days after that September 15, 2002, conversation, a county judge removed Larry Debus and Tom Thinnes from the Branon case in a hearing whose contents still remain under seal.

"I hadn't spoken to Shawna for days at that point, and I was freaking," Mark Branon says. "Then I get a letter from Tom Thinnes saying he's off the case and can't tell me why. I paid these guys -- Debus, Thinnes and Owens -- almost $200,000, and now I didn't even have a lawyer."

Owens and Lowe spoke next on September 24. Owens said he hadn't heard from Shawna Branon since the 15th.

"If they want me to go to a grand jury, I'll go," Owens told the detective. "Whatever I can do to help you, I'll help you."

Shawna Branon says she did exactly as Owens had instructed, leaving town with a girlfriend without telling anyone where she was going.

On September 27, the day after she returned, Glendale police picked her up at her mother's house and took her to the police station.

There, Bruce Lowe advised her that Owens had been blabbing to him about her husband for months. He also said Owens had taped her in the September 15 phone call saying all kinds of things.

Shawna said little to the detective other than to say she was very confused. She says she left the station that day in a state of shock.

Three days later, Shawna returned to the Glendale police station with an attorney.

"I have a man who says he will go to court and testify against you," Lowe told her that September 30, according to a police transcript of that meeting. "That you were trying to set up a hit man."

Shawna then told the detective a wild story.

"Bob told me, 'It's easy enough to clear up,'" Shawna said. "'But if they indict you, you're gonna sit in jail for a couple of weeks until all this is sorted out.' He said the best thing to do if they try to get [me] for a murder conspiracy is to have a tape saying that [I'm afraid of Mark]."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin