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Orange County

State's Case: Cash, Hate Led to Murder for Hire

November 14, 2002|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

Building a murder case against a woman accused of hiring a hit man to kill the wife of her lover, prosecutors Wednesday offered evidence that Adriana Vasco depended on the Huntington Beach anesthesiologist for money -- and couldn't stand his wife.

Among those testifying in the second day of Vasco's trial were former friends who said Vasco spoke often about her relationship with Dr. Kenneth Stahl and the animosity that the two had for Carolyn Oppy-Stahl.

"She didn't like Dr. Stahl's wife," Nicole Nguyen testified in Orange County Superior Court. "She called her a witch."

Sketching what they describe as a murder-for-hire plot gone awry, authorities contend the 35-year-old medical secretary hired a hit man, who then killed not only Stahl's wife, but also the doctor himself. Alleged triggerman Dennis Earl Godley, 32, faces a separate trial next year.

Vasco, according to prosecutors, carried on a years-long affair with the doctor, who frequently showered her with gifts of cash and complained that he hated his wife. The 57-year-old anesthesiologist wanted to divorce his wife but feared he'd lose all his money.

Together, prosecutors contend, Vasco and the doctor hatched a plan to kill the wife, a 44-year-old optometrist. They hired Godley, a handyman at Vasco's Anaheim apartment complex, for $30,000 and instructed him to kill the woman on a dark, lonely stretch of Ortega Highway. Stahl would even drive his wife to the murder site, telling her that he had a "surprise" for her upcoming birthday.

"But something happened that Kenneth didn't contemplate," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dennis Conway. "That was the murder of Kenneth Stahl."

On Nov. 20, 1999, a security guard discovered the Stahls' Dodge Stratus idling on the shoulder of the remote highway, its high beams on. Inside the vehicle, Oppy-Stahl lay sprawled in the passenger seat, her feet sticking out the open door. Stahl slumped against his seat belt on the driver's side. Both were dead from multiple gunshot wounds, according to police.

Nguyen and other prosecution witnesses testified that Stahl would give Vasco gifts of cash, in sums of $500 and $800. They said Vasco often spent her money on trinkets and gifts and came up short when it was time to pay for rent or re-register her car.

Prosecutors expect to rest their case today. Defense lawyer Robert Viefhaus, who did not offer an opening statement, will present Vasco's case Monday.

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