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Hughes’ Murder Scenario Offered Court : Prosecutor Asserts Bungled Plot; Defense Says Wife Is Her Own Victim

Times Staff Writer

The prosecution Wednesday began to lay out its case in the death of James Hughes, 37, of Huntington Beach with a presentation that resembled an Alfred Hitchcock movie script.

Rick Toohey, deputy district attorney, offered this scenario in Orange County Superior Court, Judge Leonard H. McBridge presiding, at the murder trial of Hughes’ wife, Jeanette Lynn Hughes, 30:

Jeanette Hughes and her boyfriend, Adam Ramirez, 44, of Stanton, plot to kill her husband for $442,000 in insurance money. Ramirez kills him in his sleep and flees in the Hughes family car while Jeanette Hughes calls the police and reports that a burglar shot her husband. The plan goes awry when she makes the phone call to the police before Ramirez can get rid of the car.

In opening statements at the trial, Jeanette Hughes’ attorney told jurors he agreed with that scenario with one exception: she didn’t know about the plan and didn’t know that the burglar in her house was actually her sometimes boyfriend, Ramirez.

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Ramirez wanted Hughes dead, figuring he could win both Jeanette and the insurance money, her attorney, Donald Rubright, told the jurors.

‘Victim of Unfaithfulness’

“Jeanette Hughes is the victim of her own unfaithfulness, which led her into this web of circumstances,” Rubright said.

James Hughes was shot to death with two shots to his temple on Jan. 10, 1984. His wife called police at 2:59 a.m. and reported that “a big man” with a mask hit her in the jaw and shot her husband as he slept beside her. A 9-year-old son and a family friend were asleep in another part of the house at the time.

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Ramirez was arrested a few minutes later in the Hughes car. He was convicted last week and sentenced to 28 years to life in prison. His son, Adam Jr., 22, testified that his father was going to switch to his own car at a nearby restaurant parking lot but forgot that he had left the keys to his car in a jacket he had given his son in exchange for his son’s darker jacket.

Rubright told jurors there’s no question that Jeanette Hughes and Ramirez had a close relationship, and that the Hugheses’ marriage was “rocky.” But that didn’t mean Jeanette Hughes knew about the plan to kill her husband, Rubright said.

Stranger in a Mask

“A stranger in a dark mask can still be a stranger, whether you know it or not,” Rubright said.

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Toohey is relying heavily on the testimony of the younger Ramirez. At his father’s trial, the younger Ramirez said he drove his father to the Hughes house, was told by his father how he and Jeanette Hughes had planned the murder and was waiting for his father afterward so he could drive off with the dead man’s watch and wallet as part of the burglary cover-up.

The district attorney’s office has already agreed to a six-year sentence for the younger Ramirez for his role in the killing.

Toohey is also relying on medical evidence that Hughes was suffocated before he was shot, which would contradict Jeanette Hughes’ story to police about what happened. But Rubright told jurors he would show the suffocation theory can’t be proven.

Jeanette Hughes was arrested the day after her husband’s death and allegedly confessed to her involvement in the crime. But two different judges ruled that her statement to police was inadmissible because she had not been properly read her rights.

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