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She killed her husband -- or did she?

Police got a confession from Kristi Lyn Bateson nine years after her husband was found shot to death while she was shopping. Tests showing her emotional vulnerability helped overturn the verdict.

August 31, 2010|By Carol J. Williams | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • Kayla Bateson, daughter, Kristi Lyn Lunbery, Kelsey Bateson, daughter. Bottom row from left: Ron Conley, father, Margaret Beamon, grandmother and Marie Conley, mother. The family was visiting Lunbery at Valley State Prison.
Kayla Bateson, daughter, Kristi Lyn Lunbery, Kelsey Bateson, daughter.…

On an April morning 18 years ago, Kristi Lyn Bateson dressed her two small daughters for the hourlong drive to Mount Shasta Mall. Her husband, Charlie, was sleeping after his graveyard shift at the sawmill.

"Hon, we ran down to Redding for a few more groceries and to look at a few things in the Target ad," she wrote on a note fixed to the refrigerator with the N from 3-year-old Kayla's alphabet magnets. She'd be home around 1 p.m., she said, signing it: "Love, your three girls."

Charlie probably never read the note. He was found at noon, dead from a single gunshot wound to the head. The body position and blood spatter told the coroner he had been asleep on his back when the shot was fired.

Within two weeks, police had four sources connecting the killing to drug deals at the house where the Batesons had moved less than two weeks earlier. But homicide investigators were looking at Kristi. It's usually the spouse, they told her.

They searched her car after tracking her down at the mall, finding no trace of gunshot residue or blood from a blast that had sent skull fragments and brain matter on all four walls and presumably on the killer.

They gave her a polygraph test. She passed. They searched the house, removing pipes and testing them for blood that might have been washed away. They found nothing. Not until two detectives showed up on her doorstep in December 2001, almost 10 years after the killing, did they get what they wanted: her confession.

It was an admission she quickly retracted. It came at the end of a two-hour interrogation that began as a supposedly routine inquiry and escalated into psychological threats and accusations.

Armed with the confession, Shasta County authorities charged the former cheerleader with murder and then convinced a jury of her guilt.

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They had been living "paycheck to paycheck" and were a month behind on the Pontiac payment. When Kristi's grandmother, Margaret Beamon, offered them the tiny cottage on her property rent-free, they moved in with plans to get ahead on their finances. Beamon had evicted the previous tenants after a neighbor told her they were dealing drugs.

No bigger than a garage, the cottage was crammed. Kayla's twin bed, made up with Minnie Mouse sheets, filled most of the sole bedroom. Kristi and Charlie slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room, with 4-month-old Kelsey's cot beside them. Getting the children out of the house in the morning so Charlie could sleep had become a routine in the few days they had lived there.

Charlie was to have gotten up at 11:30 a.m. on that Friday, April 17, 1992, to put a new lock on the door. Kristi had come home Thursday evening to find it open and the lights on. She called Charlie at work, worried that there had been a break-in.

In the morning, as she was getting ready to leave just before 8 a.m., Charlie moved from the sofa to Kayla's bed and asked Kristi to set the alarm clock.

As Kristi window-shopped at the mall for a few hours, she ran into her grandfather and a few others she knew. When she went out to the parking lot, she found her right front tire was flat. She used a pay phone to call Charlie but got no answer. Remembering that the ringer had been turned down, she called her friend Brenda Strickland from the old neighborhood to go over and tell Charlie she needed help with the tire. Phone records show the call to Brenda came from the mall at 11:47 a.m.

Brenda knocked on the cottage door. No one answered. She found the door unlocked and stepped inside. Hearing the radio alarm blaring in the bedroom, she rapped on the door, then opened it. Charlie, with the Minnie Mouse sheets still tucked under his chin, was dead.

Sheriff's Deputy Ron Clemens found Kristi, her girls and her grandfather at the mall. He asked them to come to the Redding station to give statements. A videotape of the interview recorded by police shows the 23-year-old widow curled in on herself, her shoulders hunched, her face etched with emotion.

Were there any problems in the marriage? Clemens asked. Did they have financial problems? Did Charlie drink or take drugs? "No jealous husbands? He wasn't having an affair?" the deputy prodded.

"Not to my knowledge," Kristi responded with an affronted look: "He doesn't have the time."

Tips began flowing in about the murder. A captain in the major crimes unit was told by a confidential informant that the killing was a mistake, intended for a previous tenant, Frank Delgado. A neighbor told police that when he returned home from taking his mother to the hospital about 3 a.m. that morning he had seen a white Ford Fiesta drive up and idle in front of the cottage. Delgado, who was known to drive the same car, sometimes lent it to his friend, Henry Garza, a suspected drug dealer.

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