Dan Montecalvo, an ex-convict who met his wife through a prison ministry while he was serving time for bank robbery, was found guilty of her murder Monday.
A Pasadena Superior Court jury deliberated three days before deciding that Montecalvo committed first-degree murder by firing two shots from a .38-caliber revolver into his wife of nine years, Carol, in their Burbank home 2 1/2 years ago.
Montecalvo, 49, who prosecutors say then shot himself in the back to make it appear that the killer was a panicked burglar, will face 27 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 3.
Wearing a gray suit, Montecalvo, who at times acted as his own attorney and cross-examined several witnesses during the six-week trial, sat stoically as the verdict was read.
Later Monday, in a telephone call to The Times from his holding cell, he contended that the jury was swayed more by his criminal past than by any evidence that prosecutors presented.
"I wasn't convicted of murder," he said. "I was convicted of being a bad person."
Prosecutors were the first to admit that their case--a "whodunit" until Montecalvo's arrest last March--was largely based on circumstantial evidence. There were no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon was ever found.
But through 85 witnesses, 163 exhibits and 8,600 pages of investigative reports, they portrayed Montecalvo as a desperate man, saddled with gambling debts and knowledgeable about guns, who killed his 43-year-old wife to cash in on her $600,000 in life insurance policies.
"He led two lives; he certainly had two personalities," Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Cohen said of Montecalvo. "To his church friends, he was a good guy. But while his wife was at work, he was in bars, hustling women and gambling."
Montecalvo said he met his wife in 1978 while he was in a Wisconsin prison and she was active in a nearby ministry. They communicated as pen pals for several months. In 1980, they were married in the prison chapel.
"In the whole world, she was the one who trusted him the most," said the victim's father, Horace Magavero.
Carol Montecalvo, who worked as an office manager and in advertising sales for local telephone companies, was killed March 31, 1988, after an evening stroll with her husband.
Upon returning home, according to Montecalvo, they decided to replace an auto registration sticker that was scheduled to expire at midnight. Montecalvo said his wife stepped into the house alone to get a towel to clean the license plate, then there was a startled shout and gunfire. When he rushed inside, Montecalvo said, he was grabbed from behind and shot. He said he learned of her death from his hospital bed.
Investigators found Carol Montecalvo's body slumped in the hallway with a bullet wound in the left side of her neck. Another bullet had been fired from close range, execution-style, into the back of her neck.
The shots did not prove instantly fatal, however, and in a lawsuit filed last year Montecalvo insisted that his wife could have survived had she received prompt medical attention. The suit, he contends, spurred police to turn to him as their prime suspect.
Montecalvo has also charged that investigators botched the case by mishandling evidence, failing to pursue other likely suspects and waiting two years to perform a key laboratory test that prosecutors say indicated Montecalvo fired a gun the night of the murder.
"I was framed," he said Monday in the telephone interview.
But members of the 10-woman, two-man jury said they were not moved by Montecalvo's defense. Once they agreed that no robbery had been committed, they said they were left with only one conclusion.
"It was like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together," said jury foreman Kenneth Gerhard, 42, a United Parcel Service manager. "Eventually, you get to the point where there's no one else there. . . . It had to be Mr. Montecalvo."
"Carol's smiling down on everybody right now," said Burbank Police Detective Brian Arnspiger, the chief investigator in the case. "She was a beautiful woman and he just snuffed her out."
Times staff writer Victor Merina contributed to this story.