A Los Angeles judge sentenced two elderly women to life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday, saying greed was at the heart of their coldblooded, years-long scheme to murder homeless men for $2.8 million in life insurance money.
"These unfortunate men were sacrificed on your altars of greed," L.A. County Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley told Helen Golay, 77, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 75, who were convicted of murder in April.
Prosecutors said the women lured the men off the street, housed and cared for them for two years, and ran them over to collect on life insurance policies the women had bought for the men. The women were abusing a law that says insurers cannot contest life policies after two years, prosecutors said.
Wesley said criminal avarice was at the crux of the case, which made headlines internationally and was compared to Hollywood movie plots for the elaborate scheme and the twilight age of the defendants.
"During this trial, Ms. Rutterschmidt, you recognized something in Ms. Golay that you had not recognized of yourself when you pointed your finger at her and said, 'You're greedy,' " Wesley said, referring to a secretly videotaped conversation between the two women in which Rutterschmidt repeatedly said Golay's greed was the reason they had been arrested. The video was played for jurors at trial.
Golay and Rutterschmidt, who appeared in court wearing bright orange prison garb with wrists chained to their waists, appeared defiant until the end, even as the victims' families gave tearful statements.
"I want to appeal, yes," Rutterschmidt said after Wesley advised her of her right to appeal. Golay's attorney, Roger Diamond, said his client was "upset" and maintained that she was innocent. Notices of appeal have been filed on behalf of both women.
The septuagenarian women were each convicted of two counts of murder and conspiracy to commit murder for financial gain. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, citing the women's ages.
Probation officers for the women, in reports released Tuesday, concluded that neither woman has a conscience and that both pose a serious threat to the community.
When they met in the 1970s, Golay and Rutterschmidt found that they had a common interest in "fleecing people," the report states. Both were "obsessed with identity frauds," the report found, and Rutterschmidt even had a rubber signature stamp in the name of her deceased husband. The report suggests she used her dead husband's name to cash checks and vote.
Sandra Salman, Kenneth McDavid's sister, choked up in court as she described how devastated her family was by her brother's death.
"It makes me very sad to see how low these women have sunk, where human life is equated with personal profit," Salman said, reading from a prepared statement. "These women have killed two men that we know of and their only regret is that they were caught."
Also Tuesday, Wesley denied a motion for a new trial filed by Diamond, who alleged, among other things, misconduct by Rutterschmidt's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Sklar.
In closing arguments, Sklar blamed the murders on Golay, saying the evidence clearly showed that she was the mastermind and kept Rutterschmidt in the dark about her intention to kill the men. Diamond also shifted his defense, laying the blame on Rutterschmidt. In the end, the women were left accusing each other.
Paul Vados, the first victim, was found dead in 1999 in a Hollywood alley in an apparent hit-and-run. The women collected about $600,000 in insurance claims. Authorities became suspicious when the same two women claimed the body and profited from the 2005 death of McDavid, whose mangled body showed the same upper-body injuries as Vados.
The women received $2.2 million after McDavid's death and were in legal battles to collect more from insurers who refused to pay at the time of their arrest. The men were covered by more than two dozen insurance policies.
Authorities found McDavid's DNA in the undercarriage of a 1999 Mercury Sable station wagon, which someone using Golay's Auto Club membership had towed on the night of McDavid's death in Westwood.
Golay, a Texas native who owns real estate in Santa Monica, and Rutterschmidt, a Hungarian immigrant who once owned a coffee shop with her husband, were arrested in 2006.