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Three years under a cloud of suspicion

Since his wife died in 2009, Gary Klein, a Beverly Hills father of three, has become the target of an investigation into her death. He wants to clear his name.

March 30, 2012|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times

Klein said they never discussed divorce. He faulted himself for withdrawing — "I got tired of always being the cheerleader" — but insisted he was never cruel. Rina tended toward melodrama, he said.

But her sister testified that Rina told her, "Gary said that if he wanted he could kill her and no one would find out how it happened."

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Klein came home about 1 p.m. on May 29, 2009, a Friday. Rina was sitting in the kitchen with another mother whose child was there for a play date. They had called 911.

"Gary, I know you don't believe me," he recalled his wife saying. "I have had a stroke. We have to go." Klein said she looked two feet to his side, her focus impaired.

In the emergency room, Klein said, a physician told him tests ruled out a stroke and asked to see Rina's medications. She was taking prescriptions for depression, anxiety, lupus,a thyroid disorder and excessive sleepiness, Klein said. The doctor, he said, told him the drugs should not have been taken together.

Klein left Rina at the hospital with her sister and drove home to get her pill bottles. On the way back, his cellphone rang. "She coded," his sister-in-law told him. When he returned, she still had no heartbeat. He said it took doctors about 35 minutes to revive her.

Offering little hope, one doctor asked about diet pills because a urine test had indicated the presence of amphetamines, Klein said. He recalled telling the doctor that Rina did not take them but had started medication for narcolepsy three months earlier after falling asleep at the wheel.

On Sunday, two days after her collapse, Klein and Rina's family agreed to disconnect her from life support, Klein said. He sat with her after she died, he said, and kissed her goodbye.

Her mother and sister wanted an autopsy, according to court records, but Klein said he begged them not to let anyone "cut up my beautiful Rina." Her doctor refused to sign the death certificate, and Klein agreed to a partial autopsy after meeting with a rabbi, he said.

Julie Pakula wanted to bury her daughter in a family plot, according to records in the grandparent visitation dispute. Klein said he consented but wanted her to sell him the adjoining plot. The day before the funeral, Klein received a letter from Pakula's lawyer. It offered him the plot in exchange for visits with her grandsons. She later testified that Klein's sister had warned that Klein might keep her from the boys, something the sister denied.

Klein continued to see his in-laws after the funeral. They met for Father's Day at the Pakulas' home. Then Pakula went to his house and took Rina's prescription bottles without Klein's knowledge, according to court testimony. Klein said he insisted she return the pills and write an apology if she wanted to set foot in his house or see her grandsons. She gave the pills to police.

On a sunny morning two months after Rina's death, detectives knocked at Klein's door. They had a copy of Rina's first autopsy, which said she died of lupus. Klein recalled the detectives told him they needed "to dot the i's and cross the t's." He took them to the backyard, where he said they asked if he and Rina had extramarital affairs. They did not, Klein told them.

When they returned to the front of the house, he saw a handful of unmarked police cars, three patrol cars and a trailer marked "crime lab." He said a detective told him he had a search warrant. A record showed it was for a "suspicious death." He said the police later asked him to take a polygraph. He called a criminal defense lawyer instead. That lawyer arranged for a private polygraph, which Klein passed.

When he went to visit his wife's grave a week or so later, he noticed the grass had been disturbed.

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The Pakulas sued for and won visits with their grandsons and challenged Rina's will, which left her community property to Klein and their sons. The probate litigation revealed that Rina had kept assets secret from Klein and put them in a separate trust for the boys, disinheriting Klein and naming her mother as trustee. She also had safe-deposit boxes that Klein didn't know about.

Klein saw his wife's newly installed headstone months later. It named Rina's survivors — except her husband.

Klein said his oldest boy, then 8, sensed the acrimony and asked questions. Klein recalled telling the boy that his grandmother suspected Klein of harming Rina. "How do I know if you are telling the truth or Grandma?" the boy wanted to know. Klein said he pointed to boxes of legal documents and promised his son he could one day read them.

More raids followed last summer, two years after Rina's death, according to Klein and others subjected to searches. Search warrant records specified "187," the penal code for murder. One of Rina's former boyfriends said police took his DNA, suspecting he might have fathered her youngest son. Klein had his own DNA test. It showed he was the father.

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