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Dramatic Verdict : Man Freed in Slaying of Artist, 73

March 16, 1989|ESTHER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

In a dramatic last-minute verdict that ended more than two days of emotional deliberations, a jury has acquitted a Glendale man of charges of murder, rape and burglary in the death of an elderly Glendale artist.

Hugo Beltran, 31, sobbed and clutched his attorney's shoulder when the verdict by the Pasadena Superior Court jury of five women and seven men was announced Monday. Beltran was charged in the death of Helen Kennedy, who was 73 when she was beaten to death in her home in the 400 block of Lexington Drive in August, 1987.

The jury had been deadlocked for more than a day in deliberations that several later described as agonizing. Late Monday afternoon, the jury foreman sent a message to Judge Jack B. Tso saying that a verdict could not be reached.

But in the hour and a half that it took the parties in the case to assemble in court so the jury could report the deadlock, two jurors who had been arguing for Beltran's conviction changed their minds, jurors interviewed after the verdict said.

Several jurors said they acquitted Beltran, Kennedy's former next-door neighbor, because the case against him was based on circumstantial evidence that they did not think tied him adequately to the crime.

Beltran was released by Tso immediately after the verdict was read. He left the courthouse soon after, surrounded by his mother, sister and several friends. The former carpet-cleaning company employee had been in custody since his arrest two weeks after Kennedy's killing.

During the three-week trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Tamia L. Hope tried to place Beltran in the room where Kennedy was murdered by introducing as evidence two fingerprints and a package of Marlboro cigarettes. An expert testified that fingerprints on the inside of a windowsill and the top of a file cabinet in the room where Kennedy was killed matched Beltran's.

The cigarettes, the same brand that Beltran smokes, were found on the floor of the room near Kennedy's body.

Beltran did not testify at the trial, but Glendale police investigators said in court that 41 times after his arrest Beltran denied ever being in Kennedy's home. Hope argued in her closing argument that the evidence, taken together with Beltran's denials, indicated his guilt.

"It was terrible; we couldn't decide," jury foreman Ken Christiansen said. "We knew he was in the house because of the fingerprints, but we don't know when. We couldn't tag it to that night."

Test Results Inconclusive

There were no witnesses to the gruesome rape and murder of Kennedy, which occurred in a guest bedroom of her home. The prosecution's case was severely weakened by the fact that criminologists with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department could not match hair, semen and saliva taken from Kennedy's body to samples taken from Beltran.

Sheriff's Department criminologists customarily testify for the prosecution, but in this case the experts were called by the defense. Hope called independent experts, who testified that the body's advanced state of decomposition when the tests were taken made the semen and saliva results inconclusive.

Beltran's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Morton P. Borenstein, said in a two-hour closing argument last week that the circumstantial evidence on which the case against Beltran was based was not sufficient to convict him. Borenstein told jurors that since fingerprints can last an indefinite time, the existence of Beltran's fingerprints in the room where Kennedy was murdered did not indicate that Beltran was in her house at the time of the crime.

"You have to find that so many witnesses are wrong or lying in order to find the defendant guilty in this case that I think you will have to agree that it is not reasonable to do so," Borenstein told the jury.

Brother Disappointed

Kennedy's brother, former Inglewood Police Chief William Kennedy, said he was disappointed with the verdict.

"I guess I'm just a firm believer that a person has to answer for what they do at some time," he said.

Helen Kennedy was an artist who often did free-lance work for local publications. She had lived in the house where she died since 1919. She lived alone and, according to testimony in the trial, often left her doors and windows unlocked.

A friend, Clifford Pierson, discovered her brutally beaten body covered with a blanket in her home less than a day after her murder.

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