By Mary O’KEEFE
In 1991 Berlyn Cosman was a 17-year-old senior at Crescenta Valley High School who had her future in front of her. She was a Falcon basketball stand-out who had just been awarded a scholarship to Missouri Western State College, a beloved sister and daughter and by all accounts a well-known, well-liked kid.
It was CVHS prom night in June of 1991 and Berlyn attended an after prom party at the Crown-Sterling Suites Hotel in Anaheim. At one point, according to reports of the time, Berlyn decided to go to the “sleep room” while others continued to party. While she slept, Paul Crowder, then 19 years old, entered the room with a gun and shot Berlyn while she slept. He admitted to being drunk to investigators.
Crowder’s defense at the time was he had tripped and the gun went off, a defense he continues to stand by today. A jury convicted Crowder of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
On Oct. 19 of this year a parole board in Orange County found him suitable for parole. The now 39-year-old Crowder is waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to grant or refuse his parole. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations’ Board of Parole Hearings voted in favor of parole in 2010 as well, but that bid was rejected by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A letter in favor of releasing Crowder written by Berlyn’s father was presented to the board this October. It is something that prosecutors admit is difficult to argue against.
Prosecutors had argued against parole. stating that Crowder has shown no remorse nor taken responsibility for the murder.
The letter has also become a conflicting issue in the Cosman family as well.
“My father just wants all of this to end. I love my father but he made me a promise when he [began] contacting Paul [Crowder]. He promised he wouldn’t help in anyway,” said Morgan Cosman, Berlyn’s sister.
Shortly after Berlyn’s murder, members of Crescenta Valley started Prom Plus, a supervised after prom party. It gave, and continues to give, CVHS seniors and their guests an alternative to an unsupervised party. Over the years the event has grown, with Prom Plus Club at the high school as the youth arm of the organization. When organizers speak they always refer to the tragic death of the local CVHS student, however with recent stories of the parole possibility in the media lately, Crescenta Valley Weekly wanted to take a look at who Berlyn was and how this murder affected her family and the community.
Morgan was 12 years old when her sister was killed. She was just reaching the teenage years when little sister and big sister become even closer.
“I was just moving from little sister [annoying] stage,” Morgan said.
Morgan attended sixth grade at Dunsmore Elementary. She said Berlyn was excited about her scholarship to attend Missouri.
“She had a four-year scholarship to Missouri Western. A few weeks before prom [our family] went to a Chinese restaurant downtown. We all sat at dinner and she signed the papers [for her scholarship]. We took pictures,” Morgan recalled. “It felt like she was spreading her wings and becoming an adult.”
Morgan has fond memories of her childhood in Crescenta Valley before the murder. The family would go to the park and play pick up games, and they would just spend the weekend at Montrose Park “hanging out.”
She has memories of Berlyn being the “big sister.”
“You know sometimes when you get a test that wasn’t [good] and you need your parents to sign it? Berlyn would sign it for me,” she said. “One of my best memories was my mom wouldn’t let me see ‘Pretty Woman’ because it was about a prostitute. Berlyn snuck me out and we went to the movie in Glendale. I remember when we got on the offramp to the 134 [freeway] she winked at me and said, ‘We are going to have so much fun.’”
At night Berlyn would put little notes under her sister’s door that read, “I love you.”
“Right before she died we were really beginning to get [so] close,” she added.
But after the murder the family seemed to disintegrate.
“We ate dinner at the dinner table. We sat down and there was that empty chair. My dad just cried. It was the first time I saw him cry [like that]. We never sat at that dinner table again,” Morgan said.
She added her mother became really quiet after that, especially because after the murder and throughout the trial the Cosman family received many crank and sometimes threatening calls.
“All the creeps were coming out and calling or leaving us emails,” Morgan said.
There were voicemails when someone would pretend to be Berlyn. And she said that Crowder’s family called upset after the verdict.
And then there were the stories and rumors that were spinning around about that night.
“We heard that one girl at the party walked in after Berlyn had been shot, looked in the room and said, ‘What a bummer’ and went back to [her room]. And people lied to the [investigators]. Some said [Berlyn] had committed suicide,” she said. “We so wanted to get out of La Crescenta.”
Morgan, her sister Terian and mother Susan oppose Paul Crowder’s parole. They have sent letters to the governor and Morgan has started an online at www.ipetitions.com/petition/berlyncosman.
“I respect my father’s grieving process,” Morgan said. “It has been 20 years and I can honestly say I will never forgive Paul for what he has done. I can go on with my life and feel just fine with that. I feel I need to stand up for my big sister.”
From Beryln’s tragic death, Prom Plus has continued to spread the word that this tragedy could happen to any child. It has given students a choice and perhaps has saved lives in the process.
Berlyn has left a legacy to her community through the organization.
“Berlyn would have liked that,” Morgan said.