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Woman dubbed ‘black widow’ dies in California prison

Susan Russo
Susan Russo in a 2012 inmate identification photo. Russo died last week of natural causes while serving a life sentence.
(Associated Press)
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A woman whom prosecutors dubbed a “black widow,” because she had her husband killed, died of natural causes while serving a life sentence, authorities said Friday.

Susan Russo, who was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy in the 1994 slaying of 43-year-old David Russo, died Thursday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

Russo, 67, was serving her sentence at the Central California Women’s Facility prison in Madera County. She had been receiving medical treatment at a local facility since Aug. 16, the department said. It didn’t say what Russo was being treated for.

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The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office will determine her cause of death, it said.

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Russo arranged to pay her boyfriend $100 to kill her husband, who was a U.S. Navy chief petty officer serving at Lemoore Naval Air Station south of Fresno, so she could collect benefits as his surviving spouse, including a nearly $1-million insurance policy, authorities said.

She let the boyfriend and an accomplice into her home, where they shot her husband and disposed of his body, they said.

In 2017, then Gov. Jerry Brown commuted her sentence, saying there was evidence that Russo was frequently physically abused by her husband, and she said she was heavily using methamphetamine, including with her husband.

The following year a parole board recommended that she be freed, but Brown blocked her release after deciding she was still a public safety risk.

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