LOS ANGELES — David Viens, the chef who told authorities that he accidentally killed his wife and cooked her body to dispose of it, was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on Friday.
Viens was convicted last year of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Dawn. He has since fired his attorney.
He spoke for about 40 minutes in a failed bid to persuade Superior Court Judge Rand S. Rubin to give him a new trial.
“I loved my wife. I didn’t cook my wife,” he said.
In a sentencing memo, prosecutors called Viens “a liar and a manipulator” and said he had a history of narcotics-related crimes before the 2009 slaying.
While living in Vermont, prosecutors said in court papers, Viens was convicted in 2003 of a federal drug-related charge. Instead of reporting to serve a four-month sentence, he fled to Mexico, prosecutors said. He eventually surrendered. In 2005, he was convicted in Florida on a federal marijuana charge, according to court papers.
In October 2009, Viens’ 39-year-old wife vanished. Her body has never been found, and Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil suggested that was because Viens wanted to conceal how she was killed. Testimony painted their marriage as disintegrating, with Dawn Viens telling one friend her husband had choked her and David Viens telling another friend he wanted to “kill that bitch.”
Soon after his wife disappeared, David Viens started dating a 23-year-old waitress who worked at his restaurant, Thyme Contemporary Cafe. He told friends and police that his wife had run off. He also sent fake text messages from his wife’s phone to her friends, prosecutors said, one of which said she was in Florida.
But Dawn Viens’ sister, Dayna Papin, suspected that something was awry. She filed a missing-person report.
In February 2011, when David Viens learned that investigators suspected he’d played a role in his wife’s disappearance, he leaped off an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. From his hospital bed, Viens gave a dramatic recorded confession to investigators.
Viens said he duct-taped his wife’s mouth and bound her hands and feet, as he had done at least twice before to silence her histrionics. Then Viens fell asleep. Hours later, “I woke up. I panicked,” he told investigators. Why? “She was hard.”
According to his then-defense attorney, Fred McCurry, Viens felt that no one would believe the death was an accident, so the chef tossed his wife’s body into a Dumpster at his restaurant.
This version dovetailed with what Viens told his daughter and ex-girlfriend, both of whom testified during the eight-day trial, and what he initially told authorities. But in a second interview, Viens gave them a far more jarring account of what happened to his wife’s 105-pound body.
“I cooked her four days, I let her cool, I strained it out,” he said. He dumped what remained in the trash. Though Viens told authorities that he stashed his wife’s skull in his mother’s attic, he added that he was “confused … because of these dreams and stuff I’ve had.”
Authorities never found the skull, and a defense expert intimated that the cocktail of drugs doctors gave Viens could have impaired his memory. Viens’ attorney dismissed the cooking story as too fantastic to believe.
But in their memo, prosecutors said Viens had a clear motive to leave no trace of his wife. “In disposing of her body,” they said in court papers, “the defendant disposed of all evidence regarding her cause of death.”