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Woman Found Guilty in O.C. Double Murder

Jurors didn't believe Adriana Vasco was manipulated into aiding in the plot to kill her lover's wife. She may face life without parole.

November 26, 2002|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

An Anaheim woman was convicted Monday in an elaborate murder-for-hire scheme in which a Huntington Beach doctor and his wife were gunned down three years ago along a remote section of Ortega Highway.

Adriana Vasco held her lawyer's hand and cried when the jury in Santa Ana found her guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Carolyn Oppy-Stahl, 44, and second-degree murder in the death of Dr. Kenneth Stahl, 57.

The jury also found two special circumstances: lying in wait and multiple murder, meaning she could face life in prison without parole when she is sentenced Jan. 10. Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno has the option of sentencing her to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The jury rejected a third special circumstance: murder for financial gain.

Prosecutors had said that Vasco had carried on a lengthy love affair with Stahl and that together they came up with a plan to kill Oppy-Stahl because Stahl wanted out of his marriage but feared a divorce would ruin him financially. Prosecutors said Vasco, 35, recruited her other boyfriend, Dennis Godley, to kill Oppy-Stahl in exchange for $30,000 to be paid by Stahl.

But Godley ended up shooting Stahl too, apparently to eliminate him as a witness, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dennis Conway. Vasco testified at trial that she heard Stahl and Godley discuss the plan to kill Oppy-Stahl. But she insisted that she was manipulated into helping the doctor arrange his wife's murder and never believed it would actually occur.

Jurors said they didn't believe her story.

"She's a tough, street-smart person," said juror Donald Tobias, a Placentia resident and retired chiropractor. "[The panel] felt that as long as she wasn't intoxicated or high, she had a pretty good idea this would happen," Tobias said.

Vasco and her sister, Norma Luna, began crying when the first guilty verdict was announced. Vasco, red eyes brimming with tears, turned around and looked at her sister.

"We need to find a way to explain this to [Vasco's] children, that Mom's not coming home," Luna said outside of court.

Vasco had testified that Godley had threatened to kill her and her two children if she revealed details of the murder plot. Godley is scheduled to stand trial next year and has pleaded not guilty.

Stahl and his wife were found shot multiple times inside their car, which had the headlights on and the motor running while parked on the shoulder of Ortega Highway. A security guard discovered the car and the bodies inside.

Stahl, an anesthesiologist, had taken his wife to dinner at a Mission Viejo restaurant to celebrate her 44th birthday. Questions immediately arose about why and how his car ended up on Ortega Highway, which is in the opposite direction of the couple's Huntington Beach home.

Eventually, homicide investigators were led to Vasco by calls that Stahl had made to her from his cell phone. When questioned by sheriff's investigators, Vasco revealed details of the plot. She told detectives that she drove Godley to the murder scene and watched as he shot Oppy-Stahl and Stahl.

After her arrest, a judge ruled that Vasco's statements about the murder plot were inadmissible because they were coerced and that her confession had been illegally obtained.

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