Dana Point Man Denies He Killed Wife With Cyanide : Courts: Richard K. Overton, on trial for murder, admits he did put drugs in a previous wife’s coffee.


A Dana Point computer consultant denied Monday that he killed his wife with a lethal dose of cyanide, but he admitted that he had secretly spiked a previous wife’s coffee with prescription drugs.

Murder defendant Richard K. Overton, who was the first witness called during the opening of the defense’s case in Orange County Superior Court, also acknowledged that he had an interest in poisons and that he had been aware of, and “hurt” by, his dead wife’s extramarital affairs.

Despite the potentially damaging admissions, the 64-year-old defendant emphatically denied the first-degree murder charge against him.


When defense attorney Robert D. Chatterton asked if he had poisoned his wife, Overton replied in a strong voice: “Absolutely not.”

Overton’s testimony came after a two-week court recess, which followed the close of the prosecution’s case. Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Evans alleges that Overton slipped his wife, Janet L. Overton, 46, a fatal dose of cyanide on Jan. 24, 1988, because he was angry about her affairs.

Evans further contends that Overton also tried to slowly poison Janet Overton, his third wife, with a toxic metal, much as he had done to his first wife, Dorothy Boyer.

It was Boyer, in fact, who helped spark the murder investigation by calling investigators six months after Janet Overton’s death and telling them that she had been poisoned by Richard Overton more than a decade earlier.

At the time of her call, coroner officials were stumped as to how Janet Overton had died. After listening to Boyer’s story, investigators re-examined tissue samples and determined that she had died of acute cyanide poisoning.

During opening statements Monday, Chatterton questioned the coroner’s determination of the cause of death, saying that there was not enough cyanide in Janet Overton’s system to kill her. Only two-tenths of a microgram of the substance per milliliter of her stomach contents was found.

“In the old days, when people smoked their Camels, there would have been twice that in the bloodstream. Yet nobody died, at least on the spot, from smoking their Camels,” Chatterton said.

The attorney said he plans to call at least four expert witnesses to the stand who will challenge the coroner’s cyanide findings. He also said the coroner’s investigators may have overlooked crucial forensic evidence, noting that there was an unexplained amount of blood within Janet Overton’s stomach.

“At this point, the question is: Do we know what the cause of death was?” Chatterton said to the jury “The answer is: We don’t know, but we do know that it was not sodium cyanide.”

After finishing his opening statements, Chatterton told the jurors that he was calling Overton to the stand so they could “get to know him.”

Overton, a tall, thin man, started his testimony by telling the jury about his extensive educational background in mathematics and psychology, in which he holds a doctorate. After his schooling, Overton worked as a college professor and then for the defense industry, specializing in computers and artificial intelligence.

Overton then explained how he married Dorothy Boyer and raised four children with her. The marriage broke up in 1968 after Boyer discovered that he had married another woman, using an assumed name, and fathered a child with her.

But perhaps the most interesting testimony from Overton came when he told the jury about how he “adulterated” Boyer’s coffee with old prescription drugs in 1973 after their divorce.

Overton said he tampered with Boyer’s food because he was upset with the way she was treating the children, of whom she had custody. He told the jury that he knew it was a “dumb” thing to do.

Boyer, the prosecution’s key witness, had testified that she suffered extreme rashes, sores and nausea from beverages tainted with what she believed was selenium, not old prescription drugs.

Overton admitted that he had an academic interest in poisons that was related to his experiences growing up on a farm in Texas. He said that his father often used pesticides at the farm and that he was curious and concerned about how the substances affected humans.

Overton also attempted to minimize potentially damaging entries in his diaries, calendars and appointment books. Prosecutor Evans has described them as the “loathing diaries” because, he said, they detail Overton’s hostile feelings toward his wife’s infidelities.

Overton, however, said the diaries helped him “get things off my chest.” After reflecting on some of his entries a day or more later, he said, many of the things that troubled him at the time no longer bothered him.

He said the “good” things that occurred during his relationship with Janet Overton weren’t usually reflected in the diaries. When good things happened between them he would “give her a kiss on the cheek,” he said.

One thing that wasn’t pleasant, Overton admitted, was finding out that she was having affairs, including one with a high-ranking administrator of the Capistrano Unified School District where Janet Overton was a trustee.

“I had suspicions that she was having an affair,” Overton told the jury. “I didn’t like (her affairs) at all. I felt very hurt.”

Overton said their 19-year marriage started in bliss and went to a stage where “some of the gloss rubs off and you find out that when your knight in shining armor takes his shoes off, they stink.”

He said that he loved his wife despite their problems, which he considered just as much his fault as hers.

His most emotional testimony came when he described how he witnessed his wife’s death. “I kept thinking she was going to get better, she was going to get better,” he said, fighting back tears. “I was wrong.”