A Superior Court jury convicted a Chula Vista woman Monday of first-degree murder in the 1987 death of a young woman pushed off a cliff in Big Sur in order to collect her life insurance benefits.
The jury, after almost three days of deliberation, also found that Virginia Rearden, 55, killed Deana Wild, 20, for financial gain, special circumstances that mean Rearden will probably be sentenced to a life term without the possibility of parole. The death penalty had been ruled out before trial.
Rearden was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit the murder, which involved her former husband, Billie Joe McGinnis, 51, who died in jail last December while awaiting trial.
The jury also convicted Rearden of forgery and preparing a fraudulent insurance claim on a life insurance policy taken out the day before Wild plunged to her death from a 400-foot drop.
Rearden, who did not testify, showed no reaction to the verdicts, which ended a two-month trial.
"We're gratified the jury convicted," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Luis Aragon. "We never had a doubt in our minds. This was not an accident. This was murder."
Rearden's attorney, Albert Tamayo, had told jurors last week that Wild could have fallen accidentally from the cliff because she was wearing high heel shoes in the rugged area.
After the verdict, Tamayo told reporters, "I thought there was a sufficient reasonable doubt shown for a not guilty verdict."
"We're going to file an appeal and research some issues for a motion for a new trial," said Tamayo.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Bernard Revak scheduled sentencing for March 30.
Authorities in Monterey declined to prosecute the couple, and the case was tried in San Diego County because the life insurance policy was purchased in Chula Vista and the conspiracy took place in the county.
During the trial, the jury, court officials and Rearden went to Big Sur and heard testimony at the cliff where Wild was pushed to her death.