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The People v. Olga Rutterschmidt et al

October 15, 2012


Super. Ct. No. BA306576 Ct.App. 2/5 B209568 Los Angeles County

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

This is the third of three cases before us involving the federal Constitution's right to confront adverse witnesses. (U.S. Const., 6th Amend.) The two companion cases are People v. Lopez (Oct. 15, 2012, S177046) ___ Cal.4th ___, and People v. Dungo (Oct. 15, 2012, S176886) ___ Cal.4th ___.

Here, defendant Helen Golay and co-defendant Olga Rutterschmidt*fn1 were in their mid-70's when they were charged with murdering two men -- one in 1999, the other in 2005 -- by running over each of them with a car. Issued in each victim's name were life insurance policies listing defendant Golay and co-defendant Rutterschmidt as beneficiaries. They collected $589,124.93 on one victim's life insurance policies; with respect to the other victim, Golay received $1,540,767.05, and Rutterschmidt $674,571.89.

As relevant here, the prosecution's theory was that one of the two victims (McDavid) had been drugged before he was killed. To prove this point, the prosecution presented the testimony of a laboratory director who, relying on reports not prepared by him, testified that testing of the victim's blood samples by analysts at his laboratory had determined the presence of drugs that could have caused drowsiness. According to defendant Golay, that testimony violated her Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine the analysts who had tested the blood samples. Because any error was harmless, we uphold the Court of Appeal's decision affirming the judgment of conviction.

I. Facts and Procedural History A. Murder of Paul Vados

In 1997, Paul Vados, then about 70 years old, moved into an inexpensive apartment on South Fedora Avenue in Los Angeles. The off-site apartment manager testified that Vados appeared to have no job and was generally drunk; his apartment was filthy. Twelve-year-old Norma Ceja, the daughter of the on-site manager, testified that she and her mother would bring food to Vados when he was too drunk to care for himself. According to Ceja, Vados was visited about twice a month by co-defendant Rutterschmidt, who said she was Vados's sister. Once, Ceja's mother saw Rutterschmidt and another elderly White woman at Vados's apartment. (At that time, defendant Golay and Rutterschmidt were each about 70 years old.)

Between 1997 and 1999, applications for at least six policies insuring Vados's life were made on his behalf. Some policies listed either defendant Golay or co-defendant Rutterschmidt as a beneficiary, while others listed both. Rutterschmidt was listed as Vados's cousin and Golay as his fiancee. In fact, Rutterschmidt and Vados were unrelated, and lacking is evidence of a romantic involvement between Golay and Vados.

On the morning of November 8, 1999, the body of 73-year-old Vados was found lying in an alley near North La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, about a mile from Rutterschmidt's home. Los Angeles Police Officer Lee Willmon, who came to the scene, found no identification papers on the body. Head and chest injuries suggested that Vados had been run over by a car, but Officer Willmon found no glass fragments or car parts at the scene. Vados had no leg fractures, which, according to forensic pathologist Louis Pena, ordinarily occur when a person who is standing or walking is fatally struck by a car. Based on the nature of the injuries, the grease marks on Vados's clothes, and the body's location (perpendicular to the alley), Officer Willmon concluded that Vados, while lying in the alley, was run over by a slow-moving vehicle.

Nine days later, defendant Golay and co-defendant Rutterschmidt reported to the police that Vados had been missing for over a week. Rutterschmidt, who signed the missing person report, described herself as Vados's cousin. Thereafter, Rutterschmidt told the off-site manager of Vados's apartment that she had been "in charge of" Vados and would remove his belongings from the apartment. A month or so after Vados's death, defendant Golay telephoned Officer Willmon for a copy of the police report on Vados's death. She said that she was a "one-time fiancee" of Vados and that Rutterschmidt was Vados's cousin.

Golay and Rutterschmidt collected $589,124.93 on the insurance policies taken out on Vados's life.

B. Murder of Kenneth McDavid

In September 2002, defendant Golay leased, and paid for, an apartment for Kenneth McDavid, who had been homeless and living outside a church in Hollywood. In the spring of 2004, McDavid invited two friends, Patrick Lamay and Amy Matte, to stay in the apartment. McDavid told Lamay that at the request of Golay and co-defendant Rutterschmidt, he had signed an insurance policy on his life.

Between November 2002 and March 2003, Golay and Rutterschmidt submitted 17 applications for insurance policies on McDavid's life. Thirteen policies were issued by various insurance companies. As had occurred with murder victim Vados, most of the policy applications described Golay as McDavid's fiancee and Rutterschmidt as his cousin, and some policies listed either Golay or Rutterschmidt as a beneficiary, while others listed both.

In January 2004, co-defendant Rutterschmidt, accompanied by another elderly woman, bought a used Mercury Sable station wagon from a car dealer. Rutterschmidt said she was buying the car for a friend named Hilary Adler, whose driver's license Rutterschmidt showed to the dealer. Rutterschmidt asked that the car be registered in Adler's name, with an address on South Croft Avenue in Los Angeles. This, however, was not the address shown on Adler's driver's license. Adler testified that she did not know Rutterschmidt and had never lived on South Croft Avenue. Allen's purse, containing her driver's license, had (before Rutterschmidt's purchase of the car) been stolen from the Spectrum Club in Santa Monica; defendant Golay's daughter Kecia was a member of that club.

On October 30, 2004, co-defendant Rutterschmidt came to McDavid's apartment with a hired, armed security guard. She told McDavid to leave, and told the guard to stay in the apartment for a week to prevent anyone from entering. Defendant Golay paid a portion of the guard's fee.

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on June 22, 2005, nine months after McDavid's eviction from the apartment, his dead body was found lying in an alley near the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Police Officer Michael McGann came to the scene, as did Kelli Blanchard, an investigator with the Los Angeles County coroner's office. According to Officer McGann, abrasion marks on McDavid's body indicated that he had been dragged, and investigator Blanchard saw a "possible tire imprint" on the front of McDavid's jeans, but the site had no skid marks, no pieces of glass, and no other parts belonging to a car, which Blanchard would have expected if McDavid had been accidentally struck by a car. Near the body, McGann and Blanchard found an undamaged bicycle and bicycle helmet. As was the case with murder victim Vados, grease was on McDavid's clothing and his legs were not fractured.

Two businesses near the scene had video surveillance cameras. Images from one camera, which took photographs every one to two seconds, showed a car driving through the alley shortly before midnight and stopping close to the spot where McDavid's body was later found; after the car's lights went off for about five minutes, the car backed up, its headlights came on, and it continued down the alley, stopping about 75 feet beyond the place where McDavid's body was discovered. The other camera's video images showed that the car was either a Mercury Sable station wagon or a Ford Taurus.

Around 11:55 on the night of McDavid's death, an emergency road service received a call on a cellphone (registered to defendant Golay's daughter Kecia) from a woman giving her name as Golay. She said she was at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles and needed towing of her car, a 1999 Mercury Sable. The car was towed, at Golay's request, to a location near Golay's home in Santa Monica. At 1:00 a.m., a call was made from Kecia's cellphone to ...

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