Jury deliberations began Monday in the third trial of a 62-year-old man charged with murdering his wife in 1993.
Both prosecution and defense attorneys agreed that Dale Hurd shot his estranged wife, Bea, on April 17, 1993, when she came to pick up her children from an overnight visit with their father. The question is whether the shooting was an accident or intentional.
Prosecutors say Hurd had a history of abusing his wife, leading her to ask for a divorce. Worried that he would be ordered to pay out two-thirds of his income in spousal and child support, he asked her to sign a settlement agreement, and when she refused, he shot her, alleged Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers.
"He decided he would be the judge, the jury and the executioner of Beatrice Hurd,'' Meyers said in her closing argument Monday
Hurd and his lawyer said the fatal shooting -- just 16 days after Bea had served him with divorce papers -- was an accident. His wife had developed a romantic relationship with another man, moved out of the couple's Culver City home and told friends and co-workers stories of abuse to build a more sympathetic divorce case, defense attorney Jeffrey Brodey alleged in his closing.
"Bea Hurd wanted to get a divorce,'' Brodey said. "She was afraid she might suffer in the divorce unless she painted him as worse than he was.''
His client was trying to show his wife how to protect herself, Brodey argued, when he loaded a Baretta handgun. Beatrice Hurd was worried about potential violence on the streets of Los Angeles following a verdict from a federal jury considering the case of four officers acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, according to the defendant.
Hurd was loading a round into the gun's chamber when it jammed and then inadvertently fired, Brodey said.
The children's testimony supported the prosecution's version of events. Hurd's daughter Diana, 7 years old at the time of the shooting, testified to instances of abuse.
Hurd's son Charles, who was 4 when his mother died, was inside the house and said he saw her "falling down the stairs and screaming and falling in front of the door'' after she was shot
Charles told an investigator about three weeks later that "Daddy shot Mommy and Mommy wouldn't sign the papers.''
Brodey argued that the two might have been coached in their statements as children. The two children were raised by an uncle and had no contact with their father following the shooting.
Meyers recalled testimony from other witnesses that Bea was terrified of guns, that Hurd had pointed guns at her and "clicked'' the trigger in the past and that she was afraid that he would kill her.
"No way on this earth she would stand in front of [her husband] with a loaded Baretta,'' Meyers told the jury, claiming that she would have been too terrified to even enter the bedroom with her husband if she knew a gun were there.
Brodey said Bea had exaggerated her fears to get what she wanted and noted that only Diana claimed to have seen or heard any abuse first hand, while other witnesses simply repeated what Bea had told them.
A firearms expert testified that the bullet entered Bea Hurd's chest at a 35 to 40-degree angle that would be hard to achieve if she were standing, as Hurd testified. Meyers argued that Bea was sitting, reviewing the settlement agreement when she was shot.
No such printout was found and Brodey argued that it never existed.
"There was no martial settlement agreement in that house. Never." The document existed only as a draft on Hurd's computer and not on paper for Bea's signature, he claimed.
Jurors in Hurd's first trial for the shooting deadlocked. A second jury convicted him of first-degree murder in March 1995, but that conviction was overturned in August 2010 by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Hurd's rights were affected by the prosecution's multiple references to his silence when he was asked to demonstrate how the accidental shooting occurred.