Monday, August 30, 2010

Dad found guilty of murdering "estranged" wife during child visitation has conviction overturned (Santa Monica, California)

Dad DALE HURD is the lucky guy. He was convicted back in 1995 of murdering his "estranged" wife. Her shooting death took place just one month after the couple had separated after eight years of marriage. The wife had been at the husband's house picking up the children after a visitation.

But shooting her to death was all just an accident, don't you know. Riiigght.

Hat tip to Annie.

Conviction in wife killing overturned

Dale Hurd told Santa Monica police in 1993 that he was showing his estranged wife how to use a gun when it went off by accident, fatally wounding her. But when officers told him to show them how it happened, he refused. At Hurd's murder trial, the prosecutor argued that Hurd's unwillingness to re-enact the shooting was evidence that he was lying and had deliberately killed his wife, Beatrice, to avoid paying her alimony.

After a hung jury at his first trial, jurors convicted Hurd at a retrial in 1995 of murder for financial gain, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. But a federal appeals court has now ruled that prosecutors had violated a right that the Supreme Court established in its 1966 Miranda ruling: the right to remain silent without being punished for it.

As Robert Beezer, one of the more conservative judges on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, put it in the 3-0 ruling last week, "A suspect's silence in the face of questioning cannot be used as evidence against him at trial." Police might have been entitled to keep questioning Hurd after he answered some of their inquiries, Beezer said, but the prosecution wasn't allowed to tell jurors that Hurd's refusal to respond to the demand for a re-enactment was evidence of his guilt.

Hurd, who has been in prison since 1993, is now entitled to a new trial unless Attorney General Jerry Brown successfully appeals the ruling. Brown's office says it hasn't decided whether to appeal.

Hurd's lawyer, Philip Brooks, says he was an economist and accountant with no criminal record at the time of the shooting in April 1993. The couple had separated a month earlier after eight years of marriage. Beatrice Hurd had gone to her husband's home to pick up their two children and was upstairs in a room with him when she was shot. Hurd called an ambulance and was sitting near the doorstep alongside his wife when police arrived.

He testified at his trial that his wife told him she was worried about possible rioting after the trial of four Los Angeles police officers charged with beating motorist Rodney King, a trial that was then underway in Los Angeles. Hurd said he told his wife he would lend her his gun and show her how to use it, but it went off accidentally after he had trouble loading it.

Prosecutors challenged his testimony and presented an expert witness who said the angle of the shooting showed it couldn't have been an accident. But the defense countered with its own expert, and the appeals court said the physical evidence wasn't conclusive. In other words, the court said, the prosecution's repeated references to Hurd's refusal to show the police how the shooting occurred may have been what convinced the jury to send him to prison for life.

Posted By: Bob Egelko (Email) August 29 2010 at 10:35 AM

Listed Under: Court filings

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