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Wife, 2 Cousins Convicted of Murder

July 01, 2000|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A woman and her two male cousins have been convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy for gunning down her husband of less than a year and staging the crime to look like a carjacking so she could collect a $1-million estate.

Rebecca Cleland, 30, Jose Quezada, 33, and Alvaro Quezada, 26, all face mandatory life prison terms when they are sentenced next month for the murder of 43-year-old software designer Bruce Cleland.

It took the jury in Los Angeles Superior Court less than three hours Thursday to return guilty verdicts against the three. Jurors also found that the murder had been committed under special circumstances--for financial gain and after lying in wait--that make the defendants ineligible for parole.

Afterward, jurors and the victim's parents, Harold and Theda Cleland, embraced and shook hands outside the courtroom of Judge Jacqueline A. Connor.

"She planned it from the beginning," said Harold Cleland, adding that he and his wife had tried to talk their son out of the marriage.

According to the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum, it was love at first sight for the shy, socially awkward Bruce Cleland when he met Rebecca at a swap meet. For her, however, it always was about money, Hum said. Shortly after meeting Cleland, Rebecca, who worked at a collection agency, ran a credit report on him, the prosecutor said. She then made plans to marry and quickly divorce him to get half of what he owned.

Meanwhile, the smitten Bruce Cleland bought her a house in Whittier. They married in October 1996. By that April, Rebecca Cleland had thrown her husband out.

They met one night in late July for what he believed would be a reconciliation dinner. By 1 a.m. on July 26, he was drunk and the murder plot was coming to completion.

Hum said Rebecca enlisted the help of her cousins for the murder, which took place at the offramp of Interstate 5 in Boyle Heights. Cellular phone records showed 11 calls between Rebecca and her cousins in the hours leading up to the murder.

Bruce Cleland was shot in the face, tried to run, was shot in the back, stumbled, and was finally shot twice in the back of the head, the prosecutor said.

Rebecca Cleland said she was knocked unconscious during a carjacking attempt. But there were no injuries and nothing was missing.

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