Jurors view car allegedly used to kill homeless man

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It wasn't the typical murder weapon viewing.

Jurors had to squat, kneel and even lie on their stomachs to get a good look at the instrument that two septuagenarian women allegedly used to kill a homeless man to collect his life insurance.

Prosecutors say the 1999 Mercury Sable station wagon killed Kenneth McDavid. It was taken to the basement of the courthouse Friday as part of their weeklong attempt to tie the vehicle to Helen Golay, 77, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 75.

Jurors strained in odd positions to look at the vehicle's low clearance, which is about 6 inches at its lowest point, and inspect the undercarriage, where authorities said they found traces of hair and flesh that matched McDavid's DNA.

John Kolter, a California Highway Patrol accident investigation specialist, testified Friday morning that the passenger side of the Sable's floor pan was pushed up an inch, with dirt and grease wiped clean, implying that the vehicle had run over something.

Prosecutors had earlier shown photos of McDavid's body with obvious grease marks on his shirt.

Prosecutors also displayed photos of red paint splattered on one wheel of the station wagon. Authorities said the red paint places the vehicle in front of the home of Golay, whose neighbor took a photo of the paint to complain about vandalism in the area.

Throughout the viewing, which lasted about five minutes, the defendants stood still and expressionless against the wall of the parking lot, their hands behind them. The women are accused of staging the hit-and-run deaths of McDavid and another homeless man, Paul Vados, and collecting $2.8 million in life insurance.

LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, the lead investigator in the case, called the viewing a "kind of show and tell."

"The jurors are hearing a lot of dry testimony, seeing pictures and documents. This is an opportunity for them to physically look at the real vehicle," Kilcoyne said.

The car was delivered on a tow truck from a Los Angeles Police Department evidence lab, then driven into the basement. Its doors were taped shut, but jurors peered into the car through tinted windows.

Prosecutors spent the entire first week of trial attempting to place the car where McDavid was killed, then connecting the defendants to the car. Three surveillance cameras from nearby retailers captured a silver station wagon resembling the Sable as it turned into a Westwood alley just before midnight on June 21, 2005, the night McDavid was killed.

According to testimony, that night a tow truck was called to a gas station at the end of the alley by someone using the Auto Club membership of Helen Golay. The driver of the truck, who could not identify either defendant, testified that he towed a 1999 silver Mercury Sable to a location in Santa Monica near Golay's home.

On Thursday, a car salesman identified Rutterschmidt as the woman who purchased the Sable from his dealership in 2004. Police found a note in Golay's day planner with a partial license plate number and vehicle identification number that led to the discovery of the vehicle.

The car had been impounded and resold by the time police located it. Detectives purchased the Sable for their investigation.

"Because of what the car went through, I did not want it anymore," Jose Adrian Quintero, the last owner of the car, testified Friday.


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