A woman convicted of killing an elderly socialite in New York went on trial Monday in the 1998 slaying of a Los Angeles businessman in a case that pits son against mother.
Sante Kimes' son and alleged crime partner, Kenneth Kimes, pleaded guilty late last year to killing David Kazdin and is expected to testify against his mother later this week. In exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole, he admitted shooting Kazdin in his Granada Hills home and then dumping the body in a trash bin near Los Angeles International Airport.
Sante Kimes is charged with murder, accused of orchestrating the killing because Kazdin discovered that she had gotten a $280,000 loan in his name without his permission. Prosecutors allege that Sante Kimes, 69, then ordered her son to kill Kazdin.
"He was her enforcer," Deputy Dist. Atty. Eleanor Hunter said Monday in opening statements, "the one she would send to do all her dirty work."
But defense attorney Ray Newman told Los Angeles County Superior Court jurors that Sante Kimes cannot accept that her son would commit such a violent crime. Newman said his client did not order any killing and there was no motive for her to want Kazdin dead.
"It had nothing to do with Ms. Kimes," he told jurors.
Sante and Kenneth Kimes, 29, became notorious after their 2000 conviction in New York for killing Irene Silverman in a plot to swindle her out of her multimillion-dollar mansion. The mother-son grifters, who have been the subjects of books and television movies, received sentences of more than 120 years in prison for the slaying. Silverman's body was never found.
The two were then extradited to Los Angeles to face murder charges in the death of Kazdin, 63, an acquaintance who ran a photocopying business out of his home. Prosecutors in the case decided not to seek the death penalty. If Sante Kimes is convicted, she could receive a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The alleged plot that led to Kazdin's death revolves around a home in Las Vegas and involves forgery, arson and fraudulent loans. According to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, Kazdin let the Kimeses put his name on the title to the house. But in 1997, without his permission, Sante Kimes obtained a loan using the house as collateral.
Kazdin discovered the unauthorized loan when he mistakenly received a payment book. He contacted the bank, which opened an investigation. Sante Kimes then transferred the property into the name of a homeless man who was working for her, prosecutors said. A mysterious fire later destroyed the house, and Sante Kimes tried unsuccessfully to collect insurance on the property.
Sante and Kenneth Kimes allegedly had urged Kazdin to tell the bank he had authorized the loan, but he refused.
On March 13, 1998, Kenneth Kimes and an accomplice who has been granted immunity from prosecution allegedly went to Kazdin's Granada Hills house. Hunter told jurors that Kimes shot Kazdin in the back of the head and then both men wrapped the body in bags, put it in the trunk of Kazdin's car and left the body in a trash bin.
Kazdin's daughter, Linda, testified Monday that she knew something was wrong when she went to her father's home on March 14.
Even though the house was on the market, she said, his bed was unmade and his shoes were beside it. Also, his car was gone, and the answering machine was blinking with more than 10 messages, she said.
David Kazdin's son, Steve, said outside court he was pleased that the trial had finally started.
"We're glad that it's underway," he said. "It's been a long time."