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Woman Convicted of Killing Husband in Her 7th Attempt

April 08, 1995|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lucia Bravo didn't so much as flinch when the verdict was read. There wasn't even a deep breath from her Friday morning as the court clerk uttered the word guilty time after time.

The jury had found her guilty of killing her husband. That, and trying to kill him six times before she actually succeeded. But the 58-year-old woman sat there, unmoved and still, as her translator told her 17 times that the jury had found her guilty of murder and attempted murder and forgery, committed to collect $700,000 in insurance money.

"It was as if they were telling her she was chewing gum," said court translator Carl Rabelo. "I've seen tough guys swallow hard, but not her."

The guilty verdict ended a case that stretched back four years, to when Miguel Bravo's body was found on the side of a remote road near Bakersfield, shot twice, at point-blank range, in the head. In other ways, it stretched back further still, to the time seven years ago when Lucia Bravo started trying, over and over again, to kill him.

And it was a murder that might not have been solved were it not for the work of Los Angeles Police Detective Lawrence Garrett. From the bench Friday morning, Superior Court Judge J.D. Smith called it an "incredible investigation."

In the back row of the courtroom, Miguel Bravo's relatives sat, listening intently as the court clerk read the verdicts.

"How could she have done that to the person who loved her most?" Miguel's sister, Irma, asked prosecutor Richard Rosenthal after court was adjourned. "He loved her to the last day of his life. God will bless you for what you have done."

Miguel Bravo, who worked in a Los Angeles glass factory, led a quiet life.

His wife, Lucia, was 16 years his senior. And together, they had accumulated a mountain of debt, more than both their small paychecks could handle.

Relatives said the Bravos fought a great deal. And one night, in 1988, he asked her for a divorce. Three months later, the string of murder attempts began.

On Nov. 18, 1988, as Bravo was crossing the street outside the glass plant at the end of his overnight shift, a white car made a U-turn. Three shots were fired from the car and Bravo crumpled to the ground. One of the bullets had slammed into his jaw.

Three months later, another shot was fired at him. And three months after that came another attempt on his life. And then another. At one point, someone tried to force him off the road. He began a life of moving about constantly, sometimes living with his friends, sometimes in his van. But those who knew him said he never suspected his wife.

On Sept. 24, 1990, Garrett was assigned to the case after a pipe bomb had exploded under Bravo's parked vehicle.

Garrett said that something didn't quite fit. Both Bravos said they had no life insurance. Lucia Bravo tried to point the detective in the direction of money lenders demanding to be paid.

On June 26, 1991, Bravo's body was found in his van on the side of the road. There were no leads. Lucia ordered the cheapest casket available for her husband's burial.

Five months later, the first break in the case came when an insurance investigator wanted to make certain that a man named Miguel Bravo had been killed. Verification was needed before his wife could cash in her policy.

When the investigation was complete, five life insurance policies had been uncovered, all of them taken out shortly before the first attempt on Bravo's life. The premiums for $700,000 had been paid regularly, even though other bills were not. The paper trail that led to Lucia Bravo took two more years to compile. But in 1993, Garrett went to Phoenix, where she had moved, and arrested her.

When he told her what the charges were to be, she replied: "Well, that's what you say."

The trial took six weeks and the jury returned the guilty verdicts after three days of deliberation.

Garrett said some aspects of the case might never be solved. Who had actually been the gunman during all the murder attempts? Rosenthal said he believed the prosecution had established that the woman could have been the actual killer. And Garrett said the evidence showed that Lucia Bravo was behind it all.

"It's someone she hired or someone doing a favor for her," he said.

In the back of the courtroom Friday, Rosenthal was talking to a small gathering of the Bravo family. One of them asked what the guilty verdict would mean.

"It means life without possibility of parole," he said. "So she is going to die in prison."

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