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People v. Rutterschmidt

August 18, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
OLGA RUTTERSCHMIDT ET AL., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the judgments of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, David S. Wesley, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BA306576).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kriegler, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

The jury found defendants Olga Rutterschmidt and Helen Golay guilty of the first degree murders of Paul Vados and Kenneth McDavid, finding that both murders were committed for financial gain (Pen. Code, §§ 187, subd. (a), 190.2, subd. (a)(1)).*fn1

Defendants were also convicted of conspiring to commit the Vados and McDavid murders (§ 182, subd. (a)(1)). The jury made separate special circumstance findings of multiple murders (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3)) as to both defendants. Defendants received consecutive sentences of life without the possibility of parole for the murders. Sentences of 25 years to life for the conspiracy convictions were stayed pursuant to section 654.

In their timely appeals, defendants contend (1) the trial court violated their Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses by admitting testimony by Joseph Muto as to the results of laboratory drug analyses performed by analysts under his supervision; (2) admission of post-arrest, custodial statements by defendants while detained together was in violation of the Fourth Amendment because defendants were not timely presented to a federal magistrate pursuant to their federal arrest warrants; (3) the prosecutor engaged in prejudicial misconduct in opening statement and closing argument; and (4) the trial court violated Rutterschmidt‟s Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury and due process by its instruction to the jury upon the seating of an alternate juror after the jury had reached a partial verdict. We affirm.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Special Agent Robert Brockway of the California Department of Insurance testified as an expert in insurance matters. A "term" life insurance policy is the cheapest type of life insurance to buy. It is effective for a specified term of years and has no investment component. Such policies require the existence of an "insurable interest"- that is, a relationship between the insured and the beneficiary based on familial or "blood," a relationship through marriage, or a financial relationship. The purpose of requiring an insurable interest is to prevent a named beneficiary from having the incentive to cause the insured‟s death. Under California law, term life insurance policies become incontestable after being in force for two years after issuance, assuming all premium payments have been made.*fn2 Before a policy becomes incontestable, the insurance company can cancel and rescind the policy upon discovery that it was obtained through fraud or misrepresentation. After a two-year period, however, the policy will remain in force even if it had been procured through deceptive means. A claim that postdates the incontestability period must be paid, unless the insurance carrier can demonstrate the policy was procured by criminal means. Insurers will typically ask whether the person seeking insurance has other policies on the same insured in order to ensure that the particular insured is not over-insured. That is, if a person has a financial worth of $1 million, the insurer will not want to provide insurance out of proportion with that amount.

Paul Vados

Defendants‟ first victim, Paul Vados, immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1956. After his wife died in 1985, Vados moved into his daughter Stella‟s Hollywood residence. Stella lost contact with him in 1995, when he moved to northern California. Neither defendant had any family relationship with Vados.

From 1997 to his death on November 8, 1999, Vados lived in an apartment on South Fedora Street in Los Angeles. According to the off-site apartment manager, Vados appeared to have no job and typically left the building in the morning and returned drunk in the afternoon. His apartment was filthy. At some point during Vados‟s tenancy, Rutterschmidt told the manager that she was "in charge of Paul Vados." After Vados‟s death, Rutterschmidt told the manager she would pick up Vados‟s belongings.

Norma Ceja was 12 years old when she lived at the South Fedora Street apartment building with her mother, who was the building‟s on-site manager. Ceja would translate English for her mother. Vados lived alone in one of the apartments. Ceja and her mother would bring food to him whenever he was too drunk to take care of himself. Sometimes Ceja would help bring him home when he was too intoxicated to walk by himself. Rutterschmidt visited Vados approximately twice a month. She claimed to be his sister and would bring him groceries. Ceja or her mother would check on Vados daily. After learning he had died, Rutterschmidt came by and told Ceja‟s mother to "dump" all of Vados‟s belongings. Rutterschmidt said that Vados had been run over by a bus or train.

Ceja‟s mother collected rent from the tenants. Vados paid by money order. Sometimes he delivered it alone and sometimes with Rutterschmidt. When Ceja‟s mother noticed Vados had been missing for approximately three days, she telephoned Rutterschmidt to tell her. Ceja‟s mother had seen Rutterschmidt at the apartment in the company of another elderly Caucasian woman.

A. Discovery of the Body

At 7:00 a.m. on November 8, 1999, Officer Lee Willmon investigated what he assumed was a fatal traffic accident in an alley near 307 North La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. The accident scene was one mile away from Rutterschmidt‟s 1776 North Sycamore Avenue residence. It was raining heavily when the officer arrived. Vados‟s body was lying cross-wise in the middle of the alley. He had no wallet and no identification on his person. It appeared that he had been lying on the ground when he was struck by the car. His chest and torso were twisted and crushed, there were abrasions on his nose, and grease on his chin. Vados‟s clothing was covered with grease in the areas where he suffered injuries. His left hand had abrasions and grease stains consistent with contact with a car‟s hot oil pan, muffler, or tailpipe. His injuries and the placement of his body was indicative of being run over by a car traveling slowly. There were no glass fragments or any car parts at the scene.

At 10:00 p.m. on November 17, 1999, Officer William Fernandez took a missing person report from defendants at the police station on Wilshire Boulevard. Rutterschmidt gave him the information. According to her, Vados had been last seen on November 5 at 6:00 p.m., at his apartment, when defendants had visited to help pay his rent. Vados‟s mental condition was "fair and possibly slipping." When they returned five days later, they could not find Vados. Rutterschmidt said she returned after another five days on November 15 and looked into his apartment with the manager. The television had been left on. Rutterschmidt signed the report form, representing herself as being Vados‟s cousin.

Golay called Officer Willmon on December 3, 1999, saying she was a friend of the victim‟s family and his "one-time fiancée." She said she was also the friend of Vados‟s "cousin," Rutterschmidt, who had filed a missing person report on him. The officer, however, would not provide her with an accident report because she was not the victim‟s next of kin.*fn3

Dr. Louis Pena, a forensic pathologist, conducted Vados‟s autopsy on November 10, 1999. The victim was 73 years old. He died as a result of multiple traumatic injuries, including 48 fractures to his ribs. The trauma to Vados‟s chest area caused a fatal laceration to his aorta. The pathologist confirmed and expanded upon Officer Willmon‟s observations of Vados‟s injuries. The injuries were consistent with having been run over by a car.

B. Insurance on Vados's Life

Starting in 1997, applications for at least six policies for life insurance or accidental death insurance had been made on behalf of Vados, listing either Golay alone or both defendants as beneficiaries. In the applications and in the claims for benefits, Golay was represented as Vados‟s fiancée and Rutterschmidt as his cousin.

For instance, an application was made on May 22, 1997, for a $50,000 John Hancock whole life insurance policy on Vados, with defendants listed as beneficiaries. No policy was issued, though, because of the insured‟s poor medical history. Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company, however, issued a policy for Vados with defendants as beneficiaries, listing Rutterschmidt‟s address as the insured‟s residence. Golay paid $16,724.34 in premiums and was eventually paid $30,318.08 in death benefits. Rutterschmidt was paid $20,212.06.

Mutual of Omaha issued a $25,000 accidental death insurance policy for Vados, with Golay as the sole beneficiary as his supposed fiancée. The insured‟s residence was listed as 424 Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, which was Golay‟s address. The initial premium payment was paid by a check drawn on Vados‟s account, but the address on the check was Golay‟s. Golay made a claim for benefits following Vados‟s November 8, 1999 "accidental death." In her claim, she represented under penalty of perjury that Vados was her fiancé, and that Vados was killed when struck by an automobile while walking at 261 North La Brea Avenue. Golay wrote to the insurance company, enclosing various documents in support of her benefit claim.

A person representing herself as Rutterschmidt telephoned a company representative on March 20, 2000, and said that Vados was her cousin. She added that Golay owed Vados $5,000, and Rutterschmidt wanted to be paid by the insurance company before Golay. Rutterschmidt called back within a few minutes and asked that Golay not be informed of Rutterschmidt‟s requests. The company initially refused to pay the claim because of suspected fraud, based on the accident being a hit and run accident with no witnesses. Golay wrote again on August 16, 2000, to complain about a delay in payment and threatening to sue the insurance company. Golay was eventually paid the $25,000 death benefit on October 4, 2000.

On October 15, 1997, Monumental Life Insurance Company issued a $250,000 group accidental death insurance policy for Vados with defendants as beneficiaries. The insurance was offered to Wells Fargo Bank account holders. Vados had a Wells Fargo account in his name, but "in care of" Rutterschmidt at her address. It was Golay, however, who made the premium payments. Defendants filed claims for death benefits. Following an interpleader action, defendants received $187,500, with the balance going to Vados‟s estate and the attorneys who handled the action.

Continental Casualty Insurance Company issued a $250,000 accidental death insurance policy on Vados‟s life. Beneficiaries were Rutterschmidt as his cousin and Golay as his fiancée. The latter made the premium payments and submitted the claim for death benefits. Defendants each received $65,875 in benefits. American Bankers issued another $250,000 life insurance policy on Vados, with his residence given as Golay‟s address and defendants as beneficiaries. Golay made the premium payments from a bank account in Vados‟s name, but under Golay‟s address and telephone number. Defendants were each paid $63,964.41 in death benefits.

On March 27, 1997, Interstate Assurance Company issued a $50,000 whole life insurance policy on Vados, with Golay‟s Santa Monica address given as the insured‟s. Golay was the policy‟s owner as Vados‟s "fiancée /caretaker." The policy had a $50,000 accidental death rider in favor of Golay, with Rutterschmidt as contingent beneficiary. On May 3, 1997, the policy was modified to change the contingent beneficiary to Golay‟s daughter. Golay received $50,416.79 in benefits under the policy.

Golay was the sole beneficiary of a $11,000 whole life insurance policy and $5,000 accidental death policy on Vados, issued by Guarantee Reserve Life Insurance. She made premium payments of $996.84 and received the $16,000 death benefits.

Rutterschmidt was a customer of the Hollywood Rubber Stamp Company during the 1990‟s. She sometimes referred to herself as Olga Smith on her invoices. She typically ordered signature stamps. Instead of bringing in original signatures as exemplars, Rutterschmidt would have a copy from a document containing the signature. Her chief concern was that the stamp make prints that "look authentic," like an original signature. In 1997, using the surname Smith, she purchased a signature stamp for Vados.

Questioned documents examiner William Leaver examined and tested the signature stamps from Hollywood Rubber Stamp Company, he opined that Vados‟s signature on the insurance applications had been stamped. He also reviewed examples of Golay‟s handwriting and opined that she had likely written most of the notations of Vados‟s identifying information on a Post-it note found in her residence at the time of her arrest.

Kenneth McDavid

Defendants‟ second victim, Kenneth McDavid, grew up in northern California with his parents and siblings. McDavid attended Sacramento High School and Sacramento State University. His sister Sandra Salman last saw him in approximately 1994. She received a telephone message from McDavid in April or early May 2005. At that time, she did not know where he was living. In late November 2005, the police informed her that McDavid had died. Salman had neither seen nor heard of either defendant; neither was related to McDavid.

A. Defendants' Selection of McDavid

Patrick Lamay*fn4 met McDavid in approximately 2002 at the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood. Lamay and his girlfriend Amy Matte had recently arrived from Michigan. They were homeless and had been "urban camping" outside the church, which provided them with food. McDavid was also sleeping outside the church because he had no home.*fn5 Lamay and Matte returned to Michigan.

Sometime afterwards, one or both defendants met McDavid and arranged for him to live in an apartment. Golay rented apartment No. 410 at 1843 North Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, pursuant to a lease agreement dated September 1, 2002. Golay regularly paid the rent by check, sent by mail and drawn on her account, but she did not live in the unit-McDavid did.

When Lamay and Matte returned to Hollywood in the spring of 2003, they met McDavid at a Starbucks close to the church. McDavid told them he had a place to live on Cherokee and took them to the Golay apartment. Lamay and Matte returned to Michigan again. Lamay and Matte returned in 2004 and met McDavid at the same Starbucks. McDavid invited Lamay to stay with him in the Cherokee apartment in exchange for Lamay‟s buying food and paying for telephone and cable television service. Lamay did so for three to four months. At some point during that time, Daniel McKelvi, Matte, and another woman moved into the apartment too, with McDavid‟s approval.

Lamay saw Rutterschmidt at the apartment, talking to McDavid. When she asked if Lamay was living there, McDavid denied it. She responded, "You know our arrangement, and that‟s why you can‟t have anybody living here." McDavid later explained that Rutterschmidt paid the rent for him on the condition that he not allow anyone else to live there with him. Also, McDavid said that Rutterschmidt and Golay asked him to sign a life insurance policy as "an act of good faith," which he did. Lamay asked McDavid whether defendants were his lovers or family. McDavid said they were not. When Lamay next saw Rutterschmidt, she was outside the apartment door "making a fuss" because there were five people living inside the unit, despite her warning. Rutterschmidt let herself inside with an apartment key. McDavid tried to stop her from entering.

Douglas Crapeau lived in the same North Sycamore apartment building as Rutterschmidt. In conversations with him, Rutterschmidt mentioned an acquaintance named Helen Golay. Rutterschmidt told Crapeau that she worked for Golay in the real estate business. Golay had ordered her to evict someone from an apartment, and Rutterschmidt asked Crapeau to help her. She told Crapeau to take a gun because she needed protection from "a violent street person." Crapeau drove her to the apartment on Cherokee where McDavid was staying. They went to the unit together. Crapeau had his gun in his pocket. McDavid was inside the unit alone. Rutterschmidt tugged at Crapeau‟s arm, telling him to "show him the gun." She pulled the gun out of Crapeau‟s pocket, but he refused to assist her and went back to his car. Crapeau could see that McDavid posed no threat to Rutterschmidt. The entire incident took less than two minutes.

Some weeks later, Lamay went to the apartment, but could not enter. Rutterschmidt was inside with McDavid and an armed security guard. Eventually, the guard let him in to retrieve his belongings. After placing his belongings in the car, Lamay surreptitiously followed Rutterschmidt down the street on foot as she walked to her car-a Honda Civic- parked on the next block. Lamay tried to visit McDavid a week or two later. McDavid opened the door for him, but the security guard denied him entry.

The security guard, Jose Luna, testified that while on duty, he wore a black uniform and carried a .40 caliber handgun holstered on his hip. On October 30, 2004, Rutterschmidt hired him for a job at the apartment on Cherokee-his instructions were to secure the apartment unit and prevent anyone from entering it. That night, she unlocked the door to the unit for Luna to enter. An older male-McDavid-and a middle aged couple were inside. When Rutterschmidt angrily told the couple to leave, they picked up some clothes and left the unit, leaving Rutterschmidt inside. Rutterschmidt told Luna to stay inside the apartment and she left. On her orders, Luna stayed there from 1:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., for the next few days to a week. Rutterschmidt told Luna that her friend, Golay, was involved with her in the assignment. One of the checks Luna received in payment was drawn on Golay‟s bank account.

Danielli Cosgrove, the on-site manager of the apartment building on Cherokee, testified that toward the end of 2004, Rutterschmidt called her to demand that the "homeless people" living in the unit be removed. Cosgrove understood her as referring to Lamay, his girlfriend from Michigan, and others who stayed in the apartment unit with McDavid. When Cosgrove told Rutterschmidt that she needed to talk to the actual tenant, Golay, before doing anything about subtenants, Rutterschmidt became belligerent and began yelling and screaming at her. Cosgrove subsequently spoke to Golay. When Cosgrove explained that it was Golay‟s responsibility as the tenant to remove subtenants, Golay began to scream at her in the same manner as Rutterschmidt. Over the course of a week, defendants, separately and together, made repeated demands that Cosgrove remove the persons living in the unit with McDavid. They did so at all hours, making demands of Cosgrove and directly to the persons in the unit.

Cosgrove went on vacation. When she returned, she found no one living in the unit. One of the defendants called her and said that Golay had given up her tenancy in the building. It appeared that McDavid had "left in a hurry." There was a lot of trash in the unit and bottles of medicine left behind. Cosgrove saw McDavid on the street in Hollywood. He appeared to be homeless and had personal belongings on his bike.

Business records showed that McDavid stayed in various motels in Hollywood from January through June 12, 2005, nine days before his murder. McDavid stayed at a Hollywood Boulevard motel from January 3 to January 24, 2005. Golay paid for his room. He stayed at a motel on La Brea from February 8 until March 30, 2005. The room was paid for in cash. Records from the Econolodge Motel on Sunset Boulevard showed McDavid stayed there for a week beginning on March 30, 2005, and another week beginning on June 12, 2005. McDavid stayed at the Hollywood Studio Inn on Sunset Boulevard from May 17 through May 20, 2005.

B. The Vehicle Used in the McDavid Murder

Mario Medina operated a car dealership on South Vermont Avenue. On January 20, 2004, the dealership sold a silver 1999 Mercury Sable station wagon to Rutterschmidt. She paid $6,000 in cash and said she was buying the car for Hilary Adler, a friend, who needed a car. Rutterschmidt, who was accompanied by another elderly woman, requested that the car be registered to Adler at an address on South Croft Avenue in Los Angeles, rather than the Encino address on Adler‟s ...


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