A former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and boyfriend of an L.A. socialite charged with murder in the deaths of two young brothers is responsible for the fatalities because his vehicle struck the boys first, defense attorneys told jurors Friday.
More than three years after Rebecca Grossman was charged with the murders of Jacob and Mark Iskander, 8 and 11, opening statements began with the defense pointing the finger at Scott Erickson, who they say was the first to barrel through the Westlake crosswalk where the children were hit.
Tony Buzbee, Grossman’s lead attorney, told jurors “she did not do anything, but someone else did,” adding that authorities never examined Erickson’s vehicle after the deadly incident.
Witnesses are expected to testify they heard Erickson’s high-powered black Mercedes SUV racing down the street and saw it strike both boys, who were hurled through the air after the collision.
Buzbee said he will introduce video evidence showing that after the crash, the former Dodger was still traveling 70 mph, a speed the defense says was more than 20 mph faster than Grossman.
“We will prove that the black car was driven by Scott Erickson, who stopped down the road and hid in the bushes and watched,” Buzbee said. “Scott Erickson’s car hit those children. That’s what … the science in this case will show.”
Prosecutors, however, argued that Grossman, who was trailing Erickson’s SUV, sped through the marked crosswalk on Triunfo Canyon Road at Saddle Mountain Drive at more than 70 mph.
Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Gould said the 60-year-old Hidden Hills socialite had alcohol and drugs in her system, which impaired her driving. He said Grossman only stopped after her Mercedes was disabled by safety systems following the collision.
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.
Graphic testimony is expected from Nancy Iskander, who was crossing the street on Sept. 29, 2020, with three of her children when she heard the roar of approaching engines on the quiet 45-mph street. She testified during a preliminary hearing in 2022 that she threw up her right hand in a desperate effort to stop the oncoming vehicles and grabbed her 5-year-old son, Zachary, pulling him to safety. She could not reach Mark and Jacob, who were farther into the street. She said she and Jacob were on inline skates, Zachary was on his scooter and Mark was on his skateboard as the family crossed the residential boulevard. Her husband and daughter were jogging nearby.
Gould told jurors on Friday that Grossman, who prosecutors say was speeding home behind Erickson after the two had been drinking at a nearby restaurant, “knew what she was doing was incredibly dangerous.”
Two tests of her blood-alcohol level returned readings of 0.08%, California’s legal limit, and 0.074%/0.075%, court records show. Valium was also found in her blood sample. She is not charged with driving under the influence.
“She acted with implied malice,” the necessary element prosecutors need to prove second-degree murder, Gould said. “If she was doing the speed limit, she wouldn’t have hit Mark and Jacob; they would have had time to cross.”
Prosecution witnesses are expected to testify they saw the speeding SUVs, with one describing the sound of the powerful vehicles “like an 18-wheeler.”
“They make the right-hand turn, and then they punch it,” Gould told the jurors.
The black box on Grossman’s SUV showed she was going 73 mph at impact, and the distance the boys were thrown — Jacob about 50 feet and Mark 254 feet — supported a speed of more than 70 mph at impact, Gould said. Mark died of traumatic blunt force injury, and Jacob was internally decapitated, he told jurors.
Gould said Grossman did not stop for over a third of a mile from the intersection and only did so because her Mercedes’ airbag deployed, triggering a fuel shutoff and a call to a safety operator.
He played a tape of Grossman telling an operator: “I was driving down the road, all of a sudden, my bag exploded.” When a 911 operator on the line with the Mercedes representative asked, “Did they hit a person? They said the two kids were hit on Rollerblades?” Grossman replied, “No.”
But Buzbee argued his client was not the one to fatally strike the children, suggesting the Iskander brothers “weren’t in the crosswalk,” and instead were cutting a corner. He said the front-end damage to her vehicle was caused when one of the boys — first hit by Erickson — bounced onto her SUV. He also promised an expert would testify why Grossman’s airbag deployed while Erickson’s did not.
“We will show that the investigation was absolutely terrible,” the lawyer told a jury panel of nine men and three women. “We will show a black AMG Mercedes … is the car that hit the children first,” adding that “multiple eyewitnesses heard two impacts.”
He said Grossman’s driving was not impaired — she had “a drink and a half in two hours” — and the amount of Valium in her system was barely detectable. He previously argued the pedestrian crossing was a known danger and said video from a nearby home security system the night of the crash will let jurors “see how dark it was.”
Buzbee said Erickson, 55, lied to sheriff’s investigators about the vehicle he was driving that night, noting that he “stopped down the road and hid in the bushes and watched” as police investigated the crash before going to Grossman’s house, speaking with her daughter and then going home.
Erickson has denied any wrongdoing in the fatal crash and had a misdemeanor charge against him dismissed after making a public service announcement about the importance of safe driving.
“We will emphasize science over emotion,” Buzbee said.
Clad in a navy blue cardigan, white blouse and glasses, Grossman kept her gaze firmly on the jury during opening statements. She hugged her son, daughter and husband — Dr. Peter Grossman, director of the Grossman Burn Center — during a break. Peter Grossman has said he and his wife were separated at the time of the fatal crash.
“This case is about two families,” Buzbee said. “But no one from our side will try to minimize the tragedy.”
“Use your courage and find Mrs. Grossman not guilty.”