LOS ANGELES – An elderly woman was convicted Wednesday of murdering two homeless men to collect millions of dollars in insurance payouts, and she and an equally elderly co-defendant were found guilty of counts involving conspiracy to murder for financial gain.
In an unusual step, the jury was to hear more arguments Thursday before deciding remaining counts in the case against Helen Golay, 77, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 75. The judge decided to take five initial verdicts.
Golay was convicted of the first-degree murders of Kenneth McDavid, 50, in 2005 and Paul Vados, 73, in 1999.
Golay was also convicted of the conspiracy counts in both killings.
Rutterschmidt was convicted of conspiracy to murder McDavid for financial gain.
The judge ordered the prosecution and Rutterschmidt's defense to present new arguments on two counts that Rutterschmidt murdered McDavid and Vados, and a conspiracy count involving Vados.
Prosecutors said the women collected $2.8 million from insurance policies on the lives of two homeless men who were killed in staged hit-and-run incidents.
Golay's convictions carry potential sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole. The single conspiracy count returned against Rutterschmidt carries a sentence of 25 years to life.
Only 206 women in the state prison system are 60 or older, but Golay and Rutterschmidt would not set a record. Currently, the oldest is an 84-year-old inmate at the California Institution for Women in Chino, said Wendy Still, associate director for female programs at the Department of Corrections.
Jurors' struggles on some counts became evident Tuesday when they handed in some sealed verdicts and continued deliberating. On Wednesday, the panel asked for readings of testimony by three witnesses and a laptop to review DVDs entered in evidence.
The women showed no reaction to the verdicts. Golay sat with her head close to her attorney and read along as the court clerk went through the charges.
"Basically the ladies did not do very well today," Roger Jon Diamond, the attorney for Golay, said afterward.
But he said he was confident there were significnt issues to raise on appeal of Golay's conviction.
Diamond said a key issue would be whether it was proper for the judge to admit a videotaped conversation between the women which was surreptitiously recorded by authorities while they were in a holding cell.
He said he felt the overall defense was harmed by the decision of Rutterschmidt's lawyer to attack Golay and suggest she was a killer.
Rutterschmidt's attorney did not comment.
Prosecutors said the women recruited their prey from among the homeless of Hollywood, invested thousands of dollars in insurance policies on them and in putting them up in apartments, then drugged them and ran them over in secluded alleys.
Both men initially appeared to have been victims of hit-and-run accidents, and police only linked the cases in late 2005 when a detective investigating one case overheard a colleague describe a very similar case.
In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace called the women "the worst of the worst."
"They didn't need this money. They weren't poor and destitute. They went out of their way to target men who had nothing," the prosecutor said.
The jury saw a secretly recorded video of the two in a lockup after their arrests. Rutterschmidt was seen berating Golay, saying it was her actions in taking out 23 insurance policies that raised a red flag when the men died.
"It's your fault," Rutterschmidt told Golay. "You can't have that many insurances. ... You were greedy. That's the problem."
On insurance policies, the women represented themselves as a cousin and a fiancee of McDavid. Golay said she thought McDavid loved them.
On the tape, Rutterschmidt snapped: "I was the cousin. You were the fiancee. Baloney."
Defense lawyers admitted the women were involved in insurance fraud but denied a murder conspiracy.
"We'll concede it's pretty sleazy what's going on here with the insurance," Diamond said in his closing. He said the idea was to insure old, sick homeless people who would die more quickly.
But prosecutors pointed out that most of the policies were for accidental death, not death due to natural causes.
By the end of the five-week trial, the women had turned on each other.
Diamond said in his closing argument that when Rutterschmidt began recruiting younger homeless men she may have had her own scheme to have them killed.
Rutterschmidt's lawyer claimed his client was "simple minded" and obsessed with Golay, a relatively wealthy woman she met in 1999. Deputy Public Defender Michael Sklar accused Golay of manipulating Rutterschmidt to purchase a car used as a weapon but said it was Golay alone who committed murder.
Golay funded the scheme and wrote the checks, Sklar told the jury.
Golay's lawyer, failing in a last-minute attempt to sever the women's cases, claimed Golay's own daughter, Kecia, 44, drove the car that ran over McDavid. Kecia Golay was not charged and did not testify in the trial.
There were no witnesses to the killings. But prosecution evidence included identification of Rutterschmidt by the man who sold her a car that was found to have McDavid's DNA on its undercarriage. There was also evidence that the car required a tow from an intersection near where McDavid's body would be found an hour later, and that Golay's Auto Club membership number was used to summon the tow truck.
A key prosecution witness was a homeless man who said he was targeted to be another victim but left when he was pressured by Rutterschmidt for personal information and to sign documents.
Jimmy Covington, 48, said he was approached by Rutterschmidt on a Hollywood street in 2005 and was promised benefits, a place to stay and money.