The labyrinthine murder and insurance-fraud case of Dr. Richard Boggs went to the jury Wednesday, after an eleventh-hour admission by his lawyer that the Glendale physician is "unquestionably guilty" of conspiring to collect life insurance benefits by falsifying the victim's identification.
But the object of the scheme was money, not murder, defense attorney Dale Rubin maintained in final arguments, telling jurors that prosecutors had failed to prove that the 1988 death of Ellis Greene, a Burbank accountant, was a homicide.
"What the plan needed was not a murder," Rubin said. "What it needed was a recently deceased body" somehow obtained from the county morgue.
Boggs, 57, is charged with first-degree murder--for financial gain and while lying in wait. If convicted, he could be sent to the gas chamber.
During the trial's final days, the pale, soft-featured defendant sat hunched over the counsel table, scribbling furiously and seldom turning toward spectators as prosecutors portrayed him as a greedy scam artist who picked up Greene, 32, in a bar, lured him to his Glendale office, subdued him with a stun gun and suffocated him.
Then, according to the prosecution's scenario, the doctor summoned paramedics and identified the dead man as his "patient," one Melvin Hanson, the apparent victim of a heart attack. A photocopy of Hanson's birth certificate and two credit cards were found on Greene's body.
Meanwhile, the real Hanson, a close friend of Boggs, had changed his name to Wolfgang Von Snowden and undergone plastic surgery, while his beneficiary and business partner in the Just Sweats clothing company, James Hawkins, collected on a $1-million insurance policy. Hawkins, 27, a handsome bisexual hustler, remains at large.
Hanson, 48, is awaiting trial on allegations of faking his own death and conspiring to commit murder. He appeared at the trial to prove to jurors he was alive, but refused to testify against his friend.
Many of Boggs' former patients--some of whom he still provides with consultations from a county jail phone--say they cannot believe their beloved doctor could be involved in such a plot.
But Boggs' life has passed through many cycles--from up-and-coming young physician, husband, father, church and community leader to party guy on the prowl in Hollywood's gay bars.
Boggs himself has maintained his innocence, telling The Times several months after Greene's death, before he became a suspect, that he knew the man as Hanson.
"I'm just somewhat amazed at the whole thing," he said. "I frankly would like to know what's been going on."
The mistaken identity was discovered when an insurance claims representative asked for a thumbprint of the deceased to close out her case. That was the detail that started the murder investigation. Five months after Boggs called 911, the body was identified as that of Greene, who had been reported missing by his aunt.
A county pathologist--who had ruled Greene's death to be the natural result of a heart ailment, but changed it to homicide after learning of the misidentification--testified that she had no idea what the actual cause of death was.
Prosecution expert witnesses said Greene died of suffocation hours before Boggs summoned help. A pathologist called by the defense said Greene died from the combined effects of alcohol and "poppers," a nitrite stimulant.
"Ellis Greene was a victim of a secret design," Deputy Dist. Atty. Al MacKenzie told jurors in his final arguments. "A murder was committed as part of a very complicated scheme to collect money" that hinged on Boggs' medical expertise and the appropriate setting that his office provided. It was, he said, "\o7 almost \f7 the perfect crime."