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Damages in Murder Case Cut by Judge

June 19, 2006|From the Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A judge has reduced punitive damages awarded to the family of a man poisoned by his wife, cutting $90 million from the amount returned by a jury in March.

A Superior Court jury found Kristin Rossum guilty in a civil trial, four years after she was convicted in a criminal case of killing Gregory de Villers in one of San Diego's most notorious murder cases.

The jury ordered Rossum to pay $4.5 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages.

But last week, Judge John S. Meyer reduced the punitive award to $10 million, saying the jury's award violated due process because the ratio between the compensatory and punitive damages was too large.

The De Villers family agreed to the reduction in order to avoid a new trial. "Essentially, in our view, the difference in amount wasn't worth seating a jury and trying that very general issue all over again," said John Gomez, the family's attorney.

The jury had decided that Rossum should pay the $100 million to prevent her from profiting from a book or movie deal. Rossum is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole at a women's state prison in Chowchilla.

Rossum, acting on her own, had asked for a new trial, arguing that the punitive award was the product of "passion and prejudice." She is appealing the guilty verdict in the criminal case.

Meyer also ordered San Diego County to pay the De Villers family more than $27,500 to cover trial costs. That figure is in addition to the $1.5 million the jury ordered the county to pay.

Rossum was found guilty in the criminal trial of poisoning De Villers with an overdose of fentanyl, a painkiller that she allegedly stole from work. Rossum was employed as a county toxicologist, and the jury found the county partially responsible.

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