Wednesday, June 26, 2013
C.A. Says O.C. Man’s Trial for Poisoning Wife Can Go Forward
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday rejected a former Orange County resident’s bid to block his trial for murdering his wife.
Div. Three rejected Paul M. Curry’s claim that an investigator had been allowed to give incompetent testimony at his preliminary hearing for the murder of Linda Kinkade Curry, who died mysteriously in 1994. Authorities concluded almost a year after she died that the cause was nicotine poisoning, but it was not until 2010—when more sophisticated forensics were available—that they decided there was enough evidence to charge Paul Curry with the murder.
Yesterday’s ruling denied Curry’s petition for writ of mandate/prohibition and lifted a stay that had prevented his trial in Orange Superior Court from going forward.
Justice William Bedsworth, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that while the homicide investigator who testified at the preliminary hearing lacked specialized scientific knowledge, he was qualified under Proposition 115 to present the opinions of scientific experts who he interviewed in the course of his investigation.
According to testimony, the Currys met while working at the San Onofre nuclear power plant and were married in 1992. Linda Curry was hospitalized in 1993 and again in 1994, with symptoms that included severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and died five months after the second hospitalization.
Witnesses said that before she died, she claimed that she was afraid her husband might kill her for insurance money. Curry collected about $400,000 in life insurance and other benefits after her death, but a witness said his wife had told her he wanted to get another $1 million in coverage, which she did not want to agree to.
A pathologist said Linda Curry died of nicotine and cadmium poisoning, and that the drugs were either injected or ingested. Toxicology tests conducted at UC San Francisco just prior to an arrest warrant being issued showed that Linda Curry had a lethal amount of nicotine in her system.
Investigator Ken Hoffman, who had worked as a peace officer since 1984, was called to testify under Proposition 115. The initiative allows a peace officer who has five years’ experience or specialized training to give hearsay testimony at preliminary hearings.
On cross-examination, Hoffman acknowledged that he was not involved at the early stages of the investigation, lacked scientific expertise, and could not verify the accuracy of the testing methods used by the experts he interviewed. The magistrate overruled defense objections, allowed the investigator to complete his testimony, and ordered Curry bound over for trial on charges of first degree murder—with special circumstances of murder by poisoning and for financial gain—and insurance fraud.
The insurance fraud charge stems from an admission to police by Curry that he gave his wife’s watch to her sister and then put in an insurance claim for it.
Orange Superior Court Judge Richard Tuohey denied the defendant’s Penal Code Sec. 995 motion challenging the preliminary hearing result, and the Court of Appeal affirmed that decision yesterday.
Bedsworth distinguished a 1991 Supreme Court case that found an investigator incompetent to give hearsay testimony under Proposition 115 because he lacked sufficient knowledge to “meaningfully assist the magistrate in assessing the reliability” of the hearsay to which he was testifying.
That defect was not present here, the justice said.
“Investigator Hoffman was no mere parrot. At the preliminary hearing, he testified he has been personally involved with the investigation into Linda’s death. Although he was not present at Linda’s autopsy, he was familiar with Dr. Halka [of the medical examiner’s office] and had worked with him in the past. Rather than just reading the reports, Hoffman studied them, read the doctors’ resumes, and then conducted telephone interviews of both witnesses. When he interviewed Dr. Halka and Dr. Benowitz [of UCSF] he had their resumes and their reports in front of him. This allowed him to use that information as the basis for his questioning. In fact, Hoffman testified that when he spoke to Dr. Halka, he went over every section of his autopsy report with him. Consequently, Hoffman was able to garner a significant amount of information from Dr. Halka and Dr. Benowitz….Hoffman was able to explain in considerable detail both the qualifications of Dr. Halka and Dr. Benowitz and the basis for their opinions as to the cause of Linda’s death.”
The case is Curry v. Superior Court, G047000.
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