LIHUE — “How would you feel about doing something in your child’s best interest even though you knew they would hate you for it?”
Kauai County Deputy Prosecutor Leon Davenport posed the question to a pool of potential jurors on Monday afternoon. The next morning, Davenport called his first witness — the defendant’s mother.
Julia Scriven, a 31-year-old homeless woman who has lived in Lihue for the past several years, was arrested after her mother found her asleep near a small bag of heroin and called police. Now, a year later, the case has gone to trial, and Scriven’s mother took the witness stand to testify against her daughter.
Laurie Scriven said she flew to Kauai last year to visit her daughter in late January. She checked into The Kauai Inn in Lihue and was joined by her sister — Julia Scriven’s aunt — the following day. Laurie Scriven said her daughter at first declined invitations to meet up but eventually came to the motel room on the evening of Feb. 1.
“She had slow sentences that kind of drifted off midstream — a little bit slurring her words,” Laurie Scriven said, describing her daughter’s behavior when she first arrived. “Usually she has lots of intonation in her voice, but it was monotone. It was kind of flat.”
According to Laurie Scriven, her daughter declined an offer to go out to eat, telling her mother she just wanted to stay in the room and relax. The two older women left the motel to get dinner around 7 p.m., but decided to go to Safeway instead and returned to the room about 30-45 minutes later with groceries.
Laurie Scriven said she left the only room key with her daughter and started knocking on the door to be let in. After getting no response, Scriven said she started knocking louder, eventually “pounding on the door with the side of my fist.” She illustrated the sound by hitting the wooden podium of the witness stand.
She sent her sister down to the office for a spare key, but before she could return, Laurie Scriven broke into the hotel room, removing a glass slat from a window so she could reach through and unlock the door. Entering the room, she found Julia Scriven unconscious, lying diagonally across a bed.
“My daughter was laid across the bed,” Laurie Scriven said.
“I walked up to the bed and started shaking her and saying ‘Julia! Julia! Julia!’” Laurie Scriven said, shouting her daughter’s name in the quiet courtroom. Between questions she looked down, squinting at her hands, which worked nervously in her lap.
Laurie Scriven, a recently-retired registered nurse of nearly 20 years, checked her daughter’s vitals. She found her skin warm to the touch and was relieved to hear breath coming from her nostrils. Scriven said she tried shaking her daughter awake but only received a moan in response. Then she spotted her daughter’s bag on the floor near the foot of the bed.
“I went over to her backpack and dumped it out,” Laurie Scriven said. “There was a black container that had needles in it, and some bottles, I believe, and a little black package of something that smelled like licorice.”
After emptying the bag and discovering a substance she believed to be heroin, Laurie Scriven called 911. Her testimony under an initial round of questioning, combined with the prosecuting attorney’s opening statement on Monday, may have led jurors to believe she placed the emergency call out of concern for her daughter’s health.
But a recording of the 911 call played in court during cross-examination revealed Laurie Scriven had an entirely different motivation.
“There’s definitely some drugs here I want the police to see,” she told the 911 operator. Just before the end of the brief phone call, the operator asked if Scriven wanted an ambulance sent to the motel.
“I think the police more than the medics because she is breathing normally,” Scriven responded. “Definitely the police.”
After playing the recording of the 911 call, Julia Scriven’s defense attorney, Matthew Mannisto, asked his client’s mother directly about what prompted the call.
“Is it safe to say that you wanted your daughter to get in trouble with the police,” Mannisto asked Laurie Scriven.
Several seconds elapsed. Then she responded, “Considering the contents of this bag, the police needed to know.”
After about an hour of testimony, Laurie Scriven was allowed to step down. She looked straight ahead as she walked out of the courtroom past her daughter, who sat next to her attorney, staring at the table. After the door closed, Julia Scriven quietly wiped her eyes with an index finger.
Two more KPD officers will be called to testify on behalf of the state. The trial may conclude with testimony from Julia Scriven. Mannisto said his client is debating whether to take the stand in her own defense today.
“I believe Ms. Scriven wants to sleep on it before she decides if she wants to testify,” he said.