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Defendant Denies Placing Rose Petals

D.A. theorizes woman accused of killing her husband may have used motif from 'American Beauty.' She faces life in prison if guilty.

November 06, 2002|Beth Silver | Special to The Times

SAN DIEGO — Kristin Rossum, the former county toxicologist accused of fatally poisoning her husband, maintained her composure through a fourth and likely final day on the witness stand Tuesday.

The 26-year-old defendant repeated denials that either she or her former lover and boss at the San Diego County medical examiner's office had anything to do with the killing of Greg de Villers two years ago.

Attempting to bolster her defense, Rossum denied that she was the source of the rose petals sprinkled over her husband's body on the night of the murder. The single rose she bought at a grocery store the day of the killing was a different color than the petals strewn over the corpse, she testified.

Under questioning by Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Goldstein, Rossum said she bought a yellow rose with peach tips the afternoon of Nov. 6, 2000. Red rose petals covered De Villers' body when it was found that night.

The prosecution has theorized that the rose petals sprinkled on the body may evoke fantasy sequences from "American Beauty," which is Rossum's favorite film.

"There's no way that the rose petals on Greg could have been the yellow rose that I bought," Rossum told the court Tuesday.

Goldstein then asked if Rossum called 911 early last month from a hotel on Pacific Coast Highway because she had just learned that prosecutors found a record of the single rose she bought the day De Villers died.

Paramedics found her that day lying face down on a bed in her hotel room. Rossum disputed the prosecutor's suggestion that she was frightened that new evidence against her had been uncovered. She said she had muscle spasms and an anxiety attack because of nervousness over her upcoming trial, not because of the revelation about the rose.

"The whole process was starting," she said. "I was scared to death."

Rossum is accused of killing her husband with the painkiller fentanyl, which is often used to treat cancer patients and as an anesthetic in surgery. An audit after De Villers' death found fentanyl and methamphetamine missing from the medical examiner's office.

Rossum has admitted she relapsed into her methamphetamine habit shortly before her husband died, but has denied she took the drug from the toxicology lab. She has acknowledged carrying on an affair with her former boss at the medical examiner's office, Michael Robertson. He was not charged with any wrongdoing and has returned to his native Australia.

Rossum has said she believes De Villers took his own life because he was despondent over their impending separation. But prosecutors allege Rossum made De Villers' death appear a suicide to cover up his murder.

He was found with a copy of the couple's wedding photo propped up next to his head, a shredded note from Robertson on the kitchen table, and Rossum's diary nearby.

The journal, one of four she said she kept during that time, never mentioned her affair.

"Are you telling us that you didn't lie in your journal?" Goldstein asked.

"A lot of the journal entries I wrote had the purpose of expressing my feelings, but also that if Greg read it he would understand," Rossum answered.

After Goldstein finished his cross-examination, Rossum's attorney showed her a series of photographs of the defendant and her husband, taken in the days before his death.

Rossum became weepy on seeing the photos, as she has several times since taking the stand Thursday. Goldstein asked Rossum why she cried on the witness stand only when she saw pictures of De Villers. Goldstein pointed out that she had had the pictures for two years and was the one who supplied them to her defense lawyers.

"It's hard to see my Greg," Rossum responded.

Closing arguments in the trial, which began in mid-October, are expected to begin today. If convicted, Rossum could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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