LOS ANGELES – A 75-year-old woman was convicted Thursday of murdering a homeless man to collect life insurance, but the jury said it was deadlocked on another murder charge and a conspiracy count.
The judge ordered more deliberations in an effort to conclude a trial that has spun a bizarre tale of a murder-for-profit scheme carried out by two elderly women. Prosecutors said they collected millions.
Olga Rutterschmidt was convicted of the first-degree murder of Kenneth McDavid, 50, a day after she was found guilty of conspiring to murder him for financial gain, and her 77-year-old co-defendant, Helen Golay, was convicted of murdering him and Paul Vados, 73, and counts of conspiracy in both killings.
Without saying which way it was leaning, the jury said it was deadlocked 11-1 on the charge that Rutterschmidt murdered Vados and 10-2 on conspiracy to murder him for financial gain.
The verdicts so far make both women eligible for life prison terms without possibility of parole.
Superior Court Judge David Wesley ordered jurors to return Monday to try to decide the remaining counts. But he also replaced one juror with an alternate, meaning talks on those counts must start over from the beginning.
The replaced juror told the court he had preplanned travel and could not serve any longer.
The latest verdict came after the jury heard a second round of closing arguments it requested in an effort to decide the last three counts against Rutterschmidt.
Deputy District Attorney Truc Do told the panel that Rutterschmidt was not the pawn of Golay.
Rutterschmidt was "fully capable of heading this scheme on her own. ... Golay is not the mastermind of this scheme. They are 50-50 partners," Do said.
A defense attorney for Rutterschmidt argued that prosecutors had not met their burden of proof to show that Rutterschmidt had the specific intent to murder anyone.
"What we know is that by Ms. Rutterschmidt's actions, she entered a conspiracy to commit insurance fraud," said attorney Michael Sklar. "On what do the people rely to say it went further than that? They rely on Helen Golay's actions."
He suggested that Rutterschmidt can't be convicted based on the acts of her co-defendant alone.
Do said jurors should not believe the defense contention that Rutterschmidt paid rent and bought food for Vados and McDavid because she cared for them.
In the case of Vados, who died in 1999, Rutterschmidt told others she was his daughter or his cousin and noted that both were refugees from Hungary. But Do said it was all a ruse, as were her tears when Vados died.
"Is she capable of feigning grief and hurt?" the prosecutor asked. "Of course she is "
"There is not a single piece of evidence in this case where Ms. Rutterschmidt has ever spoken the truth about these victims," she said.
Both men were run over by cars in dark alleys, incidents which authorities said were staged to look like hit-and-run accidents. The women combined collected $2.8 million on insurance policies which they bought for the men.
They were arrested in 2005 after an investigation into McDavid's death earlier that year led to a link with the then-unsolved Vados killing years earlier.
Before jurors resumed their deliberations, Sklar suggested that the panelists could rescind any of the verdicts already reached. The judge, however, scheduled Golay to be sentenced on June 24. He said if the jury changed its verdict in any way, he could change the date.
Do portrayed Rutterschmidt as a cold-hearted killer who bought a car to use as a murder weapon, kept it in waiting for a year and a half and all the while kept visiting McDavid.
"She looked this man in the eye and knew she was going to kill him to collect $3.7 million," said Do. "She not only knew she was going to kill him but she knew exactly how."
Do told jurors that by convicting Rutterschmidt of conspiracy in McDavid's killing they had already accepted that she was a murderer. The prosecutor played for the panel again an excerpt from a surreptitiously videotaped conversation between the women in a jail lockup after their arrest.
She noted that Rutterschmidt was talking then about how she planned to set up a business in Canada and told Golay it would be "the same thing."
"She's talking about murder to collect life insurance benefits," said Do. "She's got two dead bodies and has collected close to a million dollars and is talking about a new business with the same setup."