Self-Defense or Staged Killing? Jury Gets Vista Case


A Vista Superior Court jury began deliberations Monday to decide whether a 51-year-old Vista real estate agent killed her husband in self-defense during a night of torture or murdered him in cold blood while he was asleep because she couldn't cope with the pending breakup of her fourth marriage.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Walt Donovan contended in his closing arguments Monday that Alberta (Ann) Rader shot Thomas Rader, 45, her husband of less than a year, once in the left side of the head in the hope of making his death appear a suicide, as he had been diagnosed as depressed and suicidal.

But the first gunshot did not kill her husband, the prosecutor alleged, so Rader fired two more times, then quickly arranged the murder scene to look as if she had been held in bondage and he had cut her on the stomach with scissors.

Rader's attorney, Roland Haddad, said his client killed her husband, a San Diego Gas & Electric Co. repairman, in self-defense after a night of horror and abuse last December. Haddad said Rader had planned to leave her husband and he reacted violently, tying her wrists with a scarf to the headboard of their bed, raping her, shoving a pistol barrel into her mouth and finally cutting her stomach and neck with scissors.

Haddad said the cuts were shallow because Thomas Rader wanted to torture his wife, not kill her. Donovan said that they were self-inflicted by Rader, and that she made them shallow to avoid infection.

According to Haddad, Rader freed herself when her husband was nearly asleep, reached for a nearby gun and shot him quickly in the head as the two began to struggle.

Donovan noted that the gun had to be manually cocked each time it was fired, and said it is inconceivable that Rader could have shot her husband three times in such a tight pattern unless he was lying still the first time she fired.

Donovan accused Rader of making up "a cute story of torture and sadism," and he ridiculed what he called "the construction of props" as part of her "deceitful scheme that didn't add up."

"Why didn't she shoot him in the face? How does a little 5-foot-2 (woman) reach around a 6-foot-4 (man) and shoot him that way? He was asleep. It was an execution," Donovan said.

He also alleged that Rader knew she would be kicked out of the house within the month and decided to act first.

Donovan said the notion that Thomas Rader would fall asleep with a gun resting between the two of them is unbelievable.

Haddad, however, said Rader had no time to fabricate a scene of torture between the time of the shooting and when sheriff's deputies arrived. Thomas Rader was still breathing when the first officer arrived, he noted.

The defense attorney argued that Rader's husband experienced a mood swing that night, triggered by her announcement that she was leaving but also as a reflection of the lingering anger he felt toward his first wife.

The prosecution argued that Rader killed her husband not only to collect $348,000 in life insurance, but because she was angry that her fourth marriage was crumbling.

"This was her paradise lost," Donovan said. "He was throwing her out, and she could not cope with such humiliation. She went off the deep end in a calculating way. One shot didn't do it. Three shots had to do it."

The jury began its deliberations late Monday afternoon after final instructions were given by Judge Richard M. Murphy.

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