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Stockbroker Convicted in Wife's Murder

In next phase, a jury will consider the Arcadia man's insanity plea in the shooting. If the claim is rejected, he could face life in prison.

September 01, 2006|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

A wealthy brokerage house executive was convicted Thursday of murder for the shooting death of his wife, who was having an affair with a gym trainer.

Jurors in Pasadena deliberated two days before finding 51-year-old Richard Robert Russo guilty of the first-degree murder of his wife, Carmen, 42, last summer.

Because Russo pleaded insanity, the trial is in two parts; the jury will return Wednesday to consider the insanity plea.

"He has had a long history of depression and mental illness," said Russo's lawyer, Mark Overland. "He belongs in a hospital, not a prison."

Overland said Russo shot his wife to death Aug. 30, 2005, after months of emotional abuse. The Smith Barney senior vice president apparently had become unhinged after learning of her infidelity, which was reflected in numerous e-mails that were introduced at the trial.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Maribelle Estrella argued that Russo's many letters showed he was planning to kill his wife, not that he was mentally ill. Citing the upcoming insanity trial, prosecutors declined to comment.

Russo was also convicted on two counts of child endangerment because the couple's children, ages 6 and 11, were home when Russo barricaded himself overnight in the family's Arcadia residence after the shooting.

Overland said Russo's writings show him to be a man who had lost touch with reality.

Carmen "has taken up with Satan," said one of Russo's letters used in the trial. "She has allowed him into our house and he is now here with me, plotting on how we are going to dole out her punishment."

Overland said Russo wrote many letters in the three days preceding the murder, several to his 20-year-old daughter, who was attending college in Hawaii and now has custody of the children.

The body was found next to the grand piano in the living room. Russo held off police for eight hours before surrendering peacefully to officers who had surrounded his home.

The victim dialed 911 and told police she was in an argument with her husband, but assured officers that everything was all right. Two officers who checked the house could not get anyone to answer the door. Police called Russo and the standoff began. Officers eventually sneaked into the house and took the children.

Overland said Russo was suicidal. Tests showed he had large amounts of Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, in his body when he was arrested.

"He was trying to self-medicate," Overland said.

Jurors heard a recording of a telephone conversation conducted during the standoff in which Russo suggested that the only thing keeping him alive was his children.

"That's the only reason I haven't blown my brains out yet," Russo said. "I'm holding out hope that I can still be their father."

The trial is due to resume before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michelle R. Rosenblatt. If Russo is found sane, he faces a maximum of life in prison; if he is found to be insane, he could be hospitalized.

john.spano@latimes.com

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