After languishing behind bars for more than two years, a Chula Vista man accused in a murder-for-insurance plot died Sunday at a San Diego hospital, the evening before his trial was to begin.
Billie Joe McGinnis, 52, died at Harbor View Medical Center, apparently from complications from pneumonia, authorities said. The results of an autopsy performed Monday were not immediately available, authorities said.
McGinnis had been admitted to the hospital last Tuesday, his court-appointed lawyer said. Jury selection in his murder case was to have begun Monday.
"I'm just shocked and sad," attorney Elizabeth Barranco said. "And pretty helpless, really. You like to think you can help your clients. I guess there are forces greater than the forces available to a lawyer."
The death marked the latest twist in a case that, from the beginning, has seen unusual turns.
McGinnis and his ex-wife, Virginia Rearden, 54, were charged with killing a 20-year-old former housemate, Deanna Hubbard Wild, to collect on a $35,000 life insurance policy that Rearden took out on Wild on April 1, 1987, the day before she died.
Wild, who had been a close friend of Rearden's son, died from head injuries during a sightseeing trip in Monterey County with McGinnis and Rearden. She plunged nearly 400 feet off a cliff about 30 miles south of Monterey.
Initially, authorities called her death an accident. Later, investigators learned about the insurance policy. In September, 1989, San Diego prosecutors filed murder charges against McGinnis and Rearden. The two also were charged with conspiracy to commit murder, insurance fraud and theft.
The case was brought in San Diego County because, prosecutors alleged, that is where the murder plot was hatched. Monterey County authorities declined to prosecute the case.
Rearden, who was to have been tried in conjunction with her ex-husband, remains in the Las Colinas Jail in Santee under $5-million bail. The case against her will resume next Monday, prosecutors said.