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L.A. County woman convicted of killing her husband for insurance money loses appeal

A woman convicted 24 years ago of killing her husband for money will remain on death row under a ruling Thursday by the California Supreme Court.

The state high court unanimously upheld the conviction and death sentence of Catherine Thompson, convicted in 1992 of hiring someone to kill her husband so she could collect $400,000 in life insurance.

The victim, Melvin Thompson, 49, owned and operated Kayser Service and Community Brake, an auto repair shop in Santa Monica. Catherine, 42 at the time of the killing, was his second wife.

She had embezzled money from her employer and had agreed to pay it back, the court said. She then engaged in various fraudulent transactions to get more money before hiring someone to kill her husband.

He was shot to death at his repair shop, and police arrested Catherine Thompson. She was in jail during his funeral and told others to collect all the jewelry from his body and bring it to her.

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After her release, she pawned the jewelry to finance a gambling trip to Laughlin, Nev., the court said.

Police arrested Thompson again after learning of her fraudulent dealings and linking her to Phillip Sanders, the man she was convicted of hiring to kill her husband.

Catherine Thompson, now 68, argued that her constitutional rights were violated when she was forced to stand trial with Sanders.

She contended the prosecution cooperated with Sanders in an attempt to ensure she was convicted. Sanders was convicted but spared the death penalty.

In a ruling written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, the court acknowledged that the degree of cooperation between the Los Angeles County prosecutor and Sanders’ defense was “unusual.”

But the court said it was not persuaded that Thompson’s rights were violated when the judge repeatedly refused to sever her trial from Sanders’.

“The evidence of defendant‘s guilt was overwhelming, including her many financial frauds indicating her motive, her lies… [and] her blurted-out statements indicating guilt,” Werdegar wrote.

The ruling came in Thompson’s first appeal. She will now be entitled to challenge her conviction and sentence on other grounds.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan


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