Dr. Richard Pryde Boggs murdered a stranger, planted false identification on his body and reported the death as a heart attack to collect $1.5 million in insurance, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Al MacKenzie didn't say in his opening statement what caused the death of Ellis Henry Greene other than that it was "not of natural causes."
Greene's death remains a mystery. His body was quickly cremated in what prosecutors say was a deadly conspiracy to switch Greene's identity with that of Melvin Eugene Hanson, an Ohio businessman whose Columbus-based athletic clothing firm was in bankruptcy.
Boggs, 56, a Glendale physician, is charged with Hanson, 47, who is awaiting a separate trial, and James Hawkins, 25, who collected $1 million in death benefits and remains at large. Hawkins was Hanson's partner in the Just Sweats clothing company.
Police did not realize until some time after a dead man was cremated as Hanson that the thumb print on the corpse did not match the one on Hanson's California driver's license.
The body eventually was identified as that of Greene. MacKenzie contended that Boggs met Greene at a North Hollywood bar, lured him to his medical office and killed him. He said Greene was "alive and well" until he met Boggs.
But Boggs' attorney, Dale Rubin, told jurors that the man who died in Boggs' office had tested positive for the HIV virus associated with AIDS and had infections of the heart and lungs as well as liver disease.
"This individual was not very well in the first place," he said, indicating the death may have been natural.
"Nothing is as black and white, as positive as the district attorney made it sound," he told jurors. But he did not explain how Hanson's birth certificate and credit cards came to be on the body.
MacKenzie said he would use circumstantial evidence to prove that Boggs, Hanson and Hawkins conspired to commit "the perfect murder" for money.
"The evidence will show you that Dr. Boggs manufactured a medical file in the name of Melvin Hanson to make it appear that Mr. Hanson had a long history of heart disease," said MacKenzie. "He also manufactured a false EKG strip."
He said crime lab experts would testify that three differently dated electrocardiogram readouts in Hanson's file were found to have been created on the same day. "The edges of the paper on all three strips matched perfectly," he said.
With the cause of death in dispute, MacKenzie said he would call medical experts including well-known former New York coroner, Dr. Michael Baden, to say that the death was not natural.
But Rubin said the experts would testify that "there is no such thing as the untraceable death."
Other pieces of the circumstantial puzzle, MacKenzie said, would be a conversation Boggs had with his roommate about how to commit "the perfect murder," phone records showing a series of calls among Boggs, Hanson and Hawkins and an alleged stun gun attack by Boggs on another man.
Boggs, who could receive the death penalty if convicted, has claimed he thought the man who died in his office was Hanson.