A Los Angeles jury has convicted a 75-year-old woman of murdering a homeless man for millions in life insurance, but is deadlocked on two charges against her in a second killing.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley ordered the panel to resume deliberations Monday on the remaining counts against Olga Rutterschmidt.
She was found guilty Thursday of the 2005 killing of Kenneth McDavid. The day before, the jury had found her co-defendant, Helen Golay, 77, guilty of murdering McDavid and Paul Vados and of conspiring to kill the two homeless men. It also found Rutterschmidt guilty of conspiracy in the death of McDavid.
Rutterschmidt and Golay were charged with luring Vados and McDavid off the streets, signing them up for life insurance, and then killing them in staged hit-and-run accidents.
The case has attracted international attention because of the advanced age of the defendants and the cold-blooded nature of the plot. The women were accused of housing the destitute men for two years because that is the period after which insurance carriers cannot contest most policies.
When Thursday's murder verdict was read, Rutterschmidt turned to her attorney and opened her mouth in an expression of disbelief.
Wesley over the last two days has released verdicts on some counts while the jury continued to deliberate on others. In response to a request from the jury, Wesley asked the lawyers Thursday to re-argue one of the unresolved counts against Rutterschmidt.
Her lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Michael Sklar, objected to reading the partial verdicts; he said it gave the prosecution an unfair advantage in re-arguing one of the remaining charges.
USC law professor Jean Rosenbluth said the combination of reading partial verdicts and re-arguing was unusual, though not necessarily prejudicial to the defense.
"It certainly bears the mark of something that would be appealed," she said. "But I don't think that ultimately it would be a successful claim."
Los Angeles Police Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, lead investigator in the case, said the mix of verdicts and deadlocked counts was "kind of crazy," but, "You've got multiple crimes and multiple defendants."
One juror had to be replaced Thursday with an alternate because he was leaving on a business trip. The newly constituted jury will start from scratch on the two unresolved counts.
The jury foreman told Wesley that it was "hopelessly deadlocked" on those charges, by votes of 11 to 1 and 10 to 2. The court did not indicate whether the votes favored conviction or acquittal.
The prosecution presented much more evidence for McDavid's 2005 killing than it did for Vados' death six year earlier. Authorities said they found McDavid's DNA on the undercarriage of the car they contended was used to kill him.
Prosecutors argued that similarities between the deaths were proof of the women's guilt in the Vados killing. Golay and Rutterschmidt allegedly collected $2.8 million in life insurance on the two men, and claimed their bodies.
During arguments Thursday, Sklar told jurors that it was "telling" that they could not agree after four days of deliberation. He also contended that the prosecution was trying to provoke the jury's "passions and prejudice" to compensate for a lack of evidence tying Rutterschmidt to Vados' killing.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Truc Do told jurors that Rutterschmidt "had to earn her half of the proceeds by doing the day-to-day work" of monitoring Vados until he was killed
Both women face life in prison without possibility of parole for the first-degree murder convictions. Golay is scheduled to be sentenced in late June.
After Thursday's verdict, Gloria Allred, an attorney for the victims' relatives, said of Golay and Rutterschmidt: "What's important is that they both have been convicted, and they're going to spend the rest of their lives in prison."