Thursday, October 20, 2011

Berlyn Cosman taught me that life was fleeting - RIP as her killer goes free

Sometimes one is reminded of a almost-forgotten chapter from their past by a random smell, hearing a special song, or finding an old trinket.

Or seeing a newspaper headline like the one I saw today: "Man convicting of killing CV student on prom night granted parole."

Berlyn Cosman (1973-1991)
Berlyn Cosman was a promising all-league basketball player at Crescenta Valley High in the early 1990s. She had earned a basketball scholarship to a university in Missouri and was expected to do well in college. She was young, pretty, smart and could drain shots from all around the key.

On May 31, 1991, three weeks from graduation, she attended her senior prom in Los Angeles and then drove down with friends to the Disneyland area for an all-night party, to be followed a trip to the theme park the next day. At some point during the night, there was an argument with a non-student friend of one of the partygoers named Paul Crowder. Cosman retreated to a different room in the hotel to sleep. Some time later, Crowder came into the room carrying a gun. He said he tripped entering the room and the gun went off. Prosecutors said he intentionally fired into the room.

Whatever the case (and I'm inclined to believe the latter), a bullet hit Cosman in the head and she died the next day. The community mourned, and Crowder was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 19 years-to-life. He was -- as the headline says -- granted parole this week. A letter to the court from Mark Cosman, Berlyn's father, saying he approved of the parole was a key factor in the decision.

Friends and I (top row, second from left) at the 
1991 Crescenta Valley High School prom.
I didn't know Berlyn personally, but I was at that Prom (though not at the party) that night as a recent CV High grad accompanying a current student (a Japanese exchange student named Tomoko, whom I was friends with). That's me in the top row, second from left in the photo to the right.

I had followed Berlyn's basketball career in the Glendale News-Press, where I was to begin sportswriting within a year. The afternoon after the prom, I was coincidentally walking by Crowder's house on Honolulu Avenue at the exact same time he was arrested after fleeing to his home (I saw police surrounding the building and a helicopter overhead).

I went to Berlyn's funeral later that week in Montrose. I later became friends with others who were at the party (they were frequent customers of the late, great Enterprise Arcade on Foothill Boulevard -- where parts of the movie "River's Edge" were filmed and I worked at the time). Paul Crowder's brother Mike played basketball at CV the next couple years while I covered the team and he obviously had to live with what his brother did.

I closely followed News-Press reporter Amy Koval's accounts of Crowder's trial that fall and recently bought a book written by Mark Cosman about dealing with the loss of a child to get his perspective. Obviously, then, I was strongly affected by what happened that night.

Why? Because what occured in that Orange County hotel room was my first real exposure to the fact that life was fleeting, that horrible things can happen to people you know. I've seen a lot of terrible things in the 20 years since, but Berlyn's death still affects me to this day.

But I also have to say that Mark Cosman's apparent forgiveness of Crowder is one of the most gracious things I have ever seen. My wife and I recently welcomed our daughter to the world, and I don't know if I could be so forgiving after such a horrible loss. He's a better man than I am.


Anonymous said...

The person who shot her, is still in prison. He did not go free, and parole was just denied again for him.

John C. Baker said...

Indeed, yesterday (March 16, 2012) Gov. Jerry Brown reversed the parole board's decision to grant Crowder parole (see: ). Per the story: "In his reversal, Brown says Crowder has been involved in transporting drugs and gang communications while in prison."