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Ex-Banker Guilty in Sex-Bondage Death : Huntington Beach Woman, 19, Died in Bathtub Fantasy

From Times Wire Services

A former bank executive, accused of killing a 19-year-old prostitute from Huntington Beach during a sexual bondage fantasy in his bathtub, was found guilty Monday of second-degree murder.

Leslie Arthur Byrd, 40, of San Rafael showed no emotion when the verdict was read in Marin County Superior Court. The conviction carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

Judge Beverly Bloch Savitt set sentencing for May 21.

According to testimony, Byrd had sexual fantasies of watching a nude woman submerged in a tub of water. Byrd admitted bringing a prostitute to his home last year and playing out his fantasy, but he claimed she died accidentally.

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However, a Marin County coroner concluded that Cynthia L. Engstrom’s death was not accidental. Her parents, who live in Huntington Beach, attended the trial.

Bill Engstrom, the victim’s father, said afterwards that he was glad a murder verdict was returned, adding:

“This certainly doesn’t bring back my daughter, but it protects society from this man.”

Byrd held a $72,000-a-year post as senior vice president of Westamerica Bank in the city of Marin before he was fired because of his repeated encounters with prostitutes.

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Byrd spent at least $2,000 on prostitutes the weekend before his arrest and had been hiring them regularly for at least six months, according to testimony. He picked up Engstrom and drove her to his Novato home for a $500 sexual bondage session while his wife, Nancy, and their two daughters were at a Girl Scout camp in the Sierra Nevada.

Police said that Engstrom, who had performed as an extra in several movies and television shows, had been working as a San Francisco prostitute for about three weeks when she met Byrd on June 16. He hired her that night and agreed to pay $500 for another date the following evening at his home.

Investigators testified that Engstrom died as Byrd played out a sexual fantasy in which he bound the woman, covered her mouth with tape and watched her struggle for breath in a bathtub.

A coroner’s report concluded that Engstrom died from “apparent asphyxia . . . with possible drowning.”

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Byrd also admitted disposing of the victim’s nude body, which was found the following morning in rural western Marin County.

Engstrom’s family has filed a $1-million wrongful-death suit against Byrd and Westamerica Bank.

Outside the courtroom, several jurors said the judge’s instructions ruled out a first-degree murder conviction.

“Under the law, we had to decide what constituted deliberation,” juror Kate Martin said. “The definition we were given by the court did not convince us it was premeditated.”

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Jury foreman Will Hall agreed: “Two people went into the bathroom, and only one came out. There were no witnesses. We only knew what Byrd said.”

Hall said the jury initially deadlocked on a first-degree murder conviction on Friday after a monthlong trial.

Byrd’s attorney, Jerrold M. Ladar, said he was satisfied with the verdict.

“We would have seriously considered entering a plea of second degree if it had been offered at the start of the trial,” Ladar added.

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