Life sentence for 81-year-old 'Black Widow' upheld

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The California Supreme Court today upheld the murder and conspiracy conviction of an 81-year-old woman who — with a co- conspirator — took out insurance policies on two homeless men who were later killed in hit-and-run crashes.

Helen Golay was given a no-parole life sentence in July, 2008 in Los Angeles Superior Court for the murder of two men — Paul Vados in 1999 and Kenneth McDavid in 2005. Along with Olga Rutterschmidt, Golay collected more than $2.8 million in life insurance from multiple policies on the two indigent victims, who were run down in Hollywood and Los Angeles.

Golay’s lawyer, Roger Jon Diamond, had argued that the trial court violated Golay’s Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against her. His argument was based on the fact that the director of the coroner’s laboratory testified in court, instead of the lab technician who actually performed blood tests on one of the victims.

Dr. Joseph Muto had testified at trial that blood samples from McDavid showed the presence of drugs that could have caused drowsiness, supporting the prosecution’s argument that the victim was drugged before he was run over and killed.

Supreme Court Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote today that Muto’s testimony did not affect the outcome of the trial.

“In light of the overwhelming evidence against defendant Golay, exclusion of laboratory director Muto’s trial testimony in question would, beyond a reasonable doubt, not have affected the outcome of Golay’s trial” Kennard said.

Six other justices concurred and affirmed the 2nd District Court of Appeal’s ruling to uphold the conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that the U.S. Constitution requires a defendant to be able to confront his accuser, if the evidence is “testimonial” in nature. Although four recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions are relevant to that issue and were summarized in Kennard’s opinion, the court made no specific findings on that matter in the Golay case.

The opinion cited evidence including a recorded conversation between the co-defendants in a police interview room in which Rutterschmidt blamed Golay for buying too many insurance policies, drugs found in Golay’s home and tissue samples matching one of the victims on the underside of a car Rutterschmidt once owned.

Rutterschmidt’s attorney had also requested a review by the Supreme Court, but the justices denied that request.

The appeals court had noted “overwhelming evidence as to defendants’ cold-bloodedness and lack of remorse in committing crimes that bespoke a complete lack of compassion for their victims.”

The women housed the indigent victims for two years to exceed the period under which the life insurance companies could contest the policies.

Golay claimed to be the fiancee of both victims, while Rutterschmidt claimed to be a cousin.

Golay was 75 and Rutterschmidt was 73 when they were charged in July 2006 with the murders.

A number of technical legal issues were raised by both sides during the appeals, including whether Muto’s blood test evidence was “testimonial.”

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