DOWNTOWN L.A. — A state appellate court on Tuesday reaffirmed the guilty convictions of two elderly women — one a former Santa Monica landlord — who were sentenced to life in prison last year for murdering a pair of homeless men for financial gain.
Helen Golay, 78, and her partner-in-crime, 76-year-old Olga Rutterschmidt of Hollywood, both appealed the convictions to the California Court of Appeals’ Second District in Los Angeles, claiming the trial violated their Sixth Amendment rights and the prosecution engaged in prejudicial misconduct in their opening and closing statements.
The two septuagenarian women were ordered to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing Kenneth McDavid and Paul Vados in separate yet eerily similar hit-and-runs that took place in Los Angeles area alleys.
In 2005, McDavid’s body was found lying in an alley behind Westwood Boulevard. His DNA was eventually discovered on the undercarriage of a car tied to Golay, who owned three apartment buildings in Ocean Park. Vados was found dead in a Hollywood alley.
Throughout the trial, the prosecutors painted the two women as greedy and cold-hearted, plucking vulnerable homeless men off the street, arranging rent-free apartments and gaining their trust, killing the men after convincing them to add the women onto the insurance policies.
In their appeal, the defendants argued that the admission of the coroner’s testimony showing the presence of various prescription drugs and alcohol in McDavid’s blood samples violated their right to confront adverse witnesses under the Sixth Amendment.
The women further contended that the use of recorded statements they made to each other following their arrest in 2006 was in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure because authorities did not determine probable cause before a federal magistrate and instead colluded to keep them in custody for the purpose of obtaining incriminating statements.
They continued in their appeal by arguing that the prosecutors acted prejudicially in the opening and closing statements, making remarks that improperly appealed to the jurors’ passions. The appellants also claimed that the trial court violated their Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury and due process when it seated an alternate juror after the jury had reached a partial verdict. After the jury had reached a verdict on six of eight counts, an alternate juror was seated after another juror had been excused for hardship reasons.
The appellate court sided with the trial court in all four claims.