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Man to be tried in 1998 killing of wife insured for $1 million

ShootingsHomicideJustice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeHighway and Road Transportation

The husband of a state correctional officer who was killed in Anaheim 15 years ago will stand trial for her killing starting Wednesday in Orange County.

Veteran correctional officer Elizabeth Begaren was shot and killed on an off-ramp of the 91 Freeway on Jan. 17, 1998. She was with her husband, Nuzzio Begaren, and his 10-year-old daughter.

Police had long suspected Nuzzio Begaren, who took out a $1-million life insurance police on his wife three days after they were married in the summer of 1997. But he was not arrested until last year after the case was reopened.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, police thought the case was an act of road rage. But their suspicions soon turned on the husband.

In an interview with The Times shortly after the shooting, Nuzzio Begaren said he believed his family had been targeted by attackers while they shopped. He said four men had followed the family as they drove on the freeway and eventually cut them off before getting out of the vehicle and shooting his wife.

Nuzzio Begaren described his wife as “full of joy, sensitive” and “a wonderful person.”  

Prosecutors now say Nuzzio Begaren hired the men who pursued the family. Hours before the shooting, authorities say, he went shopping with his wife and young daughter in Burbank and gave his wife $5,000 to put in her purse.

As the family drove along the freeway, authorities say, they were cut off and forced to pull over. A man in the pursuing vehicle shot Elizabeth Begaren in the head and chest, took her purse and fled.

A few years after the killing, Nuzzio Begaren collected the $1-million life insurance on his wife, prosecutors said.

Nuzzio Begaren was arrested last year in Rancho Cucamonga. Guillermo Espinoza, the man authorities believe was the gunman, has never been arrested. He is listed as one of the Orange County district attorney's most wanted. Authorities believe he went into hiding when the case was reopened in 2012. 

Nuzzio Begaren is charged with special circumstances murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and he faces sentencing enhancements for standing to gain financially from the killing. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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Twitter: @PalomaEsquivel

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