A 62-year-old man charged with murdering his wife in 1993 testified Monday that the fatal shooting was accidental.
Dale Hurd is charged with murder in the April 17, 1993, shooting death of his estranged wife, Bea, who had served him with divorce papers 16 days earlier.
“Not only had his wife left him but she was going to cost him a lot of money,” Deputy District Attorney Heather Steggell told jurors during her opening statement in Los Angeles Downtown District Criminal Court, referring to alimony that Hurd could have been ordered to pay to his wife.
Hurd's defense attorney, Jeffrey Brodey countered that jurors had heard the prosecution “lay out a picture of Mr. Hurd that I believe is not true,” and said they would have to decide if the killing was premeditated, a crime of passion or an accident.
On Monday Hurd testified that he bought a Beretta handgun to protect his family shortly after his daughter Diana was born. But “I never aimed the gun at Bea.” Hurd said under oath. “Never. That's not true.”
Hurd said he'd never been to a target range with the handgun or become proficient with the weapon.
But as Angelenos waited on a verdict from a federal jury reconsidering the case of four officers acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, Hurd said, “I was trying to impress her, to show her that I could protect her. I was being macho.”
Bea had developed a romantic relationship with another man and moved out of the couple's Culver City house, after asking for a divorce. The fatal shooting happened when she stopped by that house to pick up the couple's two children, who had been visiting their father overnight.
Hurd took the Beretta from a drawer in his bedroom to show her how to load a round into the chamber, he said. The gun jammed and as he tried to fix it, a round fired.
The moments immediately following the gunfire were “a blank,” Hurd said, but then, he recalled, his wife was walking out the door of the bedroom and down the stairs saying, “My God, I'm shot.”
The couple's son, Charles Hurd, 4-years-old at the time of the shooting, testified during trial that he remembered seeing his mother “falling down the stairs and screaming and falling in front of the door'' after she was shot.
Prosecutors said Bea Hurd was “terrified'' of guns.
“Even in her final minutes, she was trying to get away,” Steggell said.
The couple's daughter, Diana, was the prosecution's first witness, testifying that she was 7 when her mother was killed.
She was inside her mother's blue Jeep Grand Cherokee outside the house when she heard a gunshot, she said.
Hurd -- whom she referred to in court as “Dale” -- came out of the house carrying her 4-year-old brother and told them to remain in the vehicle while he called 911, she testified.
When asked if he appeared to be upset or was crying, Diana Hurd said that he didn't.
Bea was ultimately taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she died of a gunshot wound to the chest.
When asked about previous incidents in which Diana recalled hearing her parents fighting, she said she had a vague memory of her father pushing her mother into a wall on one occasion and remembered that on another occasion she was awakened by her mother screaming and saw her father choking her mother when she walked into the room.
“He yelled at her and accused her of scratching him,” she said.
The two -- who were raised by an uncle -- said they have not had any contact with their father since then.
Hurd was reluctant -- under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers -- to speak against his estranged children, saying he didn't think they had “deliberately misrepresented the truth,” but that the violent incidents they cited didn't happen.
“I never choked Bea,” he said, though he did admit to grabbing his wife by the arms in a hold one day in 1990 and said she went to the hospital the next day and returned with a neck brace.
Recalling moments with Bea, Hurd began to cry at one point on the witness stand, prompting a warning from his attorney, Jeffrey Brodey, to “Stop!” though Hurd continued to blink back tears at various points in his testimony.
One witness for the prosecution, a former Culver City police officer that worked with Hurd in Coopers and Lybrand's commercial litigation group has testified that Hurd had asked him if he knew someone who could kill his wife.
He also said that Hurd, an accountant for the consulting firm, was upset that he might have to give up two-thirds of his discretionary income.
Hurd denied those allegations and another co-worker, Julie Plat, called as a defense witness contradicted some of the ex-officer's testimony and said of the man, “I didn't trust him,” later adding, “He overdramatized things.”
Jurors in Hurd's first trial for the deadly shooting deadlocked.
The second jury to hear the case against him convicted him in March 1995 of first-degree murder and found true the special circumstance of murder for financial gain.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in August 2010, ruling that Hurd's rights were “substantially and injuriously affected by the prosecution's multiple references at trial to his silence when he was asked to demonstrate how the shooting -- which he contended had accidentally discharged as he lowered the gun to inspect it when it jammed - - had occurred.”
Closing arguments in this trial are scheduled for today.