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Husband Arrested in Woman's Poisoning Death : Crime: Victim died five days after being taken to hospital; strychnine was detected during autopsy.

August 25, 1990|DEANNA BELLANDI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 46-year-old San Diego man was booked into County Jail Friday on suspicion of killing his wife with strychnine, a poison used to kill rodents.

San Diego police arrested John Morency at his home in the 4300 block of Caminito de la Escena about 7:30 a.m., said Lt. Dan Berglund, a homicide imvestigator.

Morency's 30-year-old wife, Sue, died Aug. 5 at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where she had been on a life support system since being rushed to the hospital five days earlier.

According to an affidavit for search warrants, police learned that Sue Morency might have planned to leave her husband.

On July 31, firefighters and paramedics responded to a 911 call about 10:38 p.m. from the couple's home in the Kensington Park Villas. According to the affidavit, Morency called saying his wife was not feeling well and that they needed an ambulance.

When the dispatcher tried to transfer Morency's call, he hung up without giving his name or address.

The fire dispatcher called him back, and this time, the affidavit says, Morency told the dispatcher that his wife, who could be heard screaming in the background, might be suffering from food poisoning.

When an emergency team arrived, Morency told them they were not needed, according to the affidavit. When they heard the screams, however, they went in anyway.

"She was obviously in great pain," Berglund said.

Sue Morency, who was nude, was found convulsing on a bed with her limbs twitching and occasionally crying out in pain, according to the affidavit.

She then went into cardiac arrest and was taken to the hospital, despite what the affidavit calls emphatic requests from her husband that they not take her because the two had a trip to Cabo San Lucas planned for the following day.

Doctors had difficulty diagnosing her illness, Berglund said.

An autopsy by the San Diego County medical examiner's office confirmed that Sue Morency died of strychnine poisoning. She had four times the lethal dose in her body.

Strychnine once was used as rat poison, but that was stopped because it was too dangerous for children who might be in the area. Now its only consumer use is as gopher poison, said Dr. Anthony Manoguerra, director of the Poison Center at UC San Diego Medical Center.

In its usual form, strychnine is an odorless crystalline powder with a bitter taste that can be dissolved in liquids or mixed in with food. When used to kill gophers, for example, the potent poison is mixed in with grain, Manoguerra said.

The poison causes the muscles to go rigid and into spasms, making it impossible for a person to breathe.

"Basically you are suffocating because the muscles are so rigid you can't expand and contract your lungs," Manoguerra said.

Interviews in the affidavit show that Sue Morency might have thought about divorce. The affidavit also notes that Morency told police he had taken out a $100,000 life insurance policy on his wife within the past six weeks because she had asked him to.

People who know the couple said they have been married for about three years and have no children.

John Morency has lived in the complex since about 1984, said Ron Parnes, director of the Kensington Park Villas near Mission Valley.

"He's a very nice fellow," Parnes said. "He's always been very friendly to the neighbors and the people in the complex."

According to the affidavit, interviews showed that the Morencys had a "very stormy relationship."

Homicide by poisoning is rare in San Diego County, according to the medical examiner's records. In 1989, three carbon-monoxide poisonings were reported; in 1988, one poisoning was reported; in 1987, there were none.

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