Thursday, September 11, 2014
Court Turns Down Elderly Husband-Killer’s Bid for New Trial in Nevada Case
Panel Says Margaret Rudin Waited Too Long to Seek Relief in Federal Court
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
In this file photo, Margaret Rudin looks to the back of the courtroom.
A now-71-year-old Nevada woman convicted of killing her millionaire husband waited too long before filing a federal habeas corpus petition seeking a new trial on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
In a 2-1 decision, the court said equitable tolling could not excuse Margaret Rudin’s failure to comply with the one-year limitations provision in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
The body of Ron Rudin, who made his fortune in real estate, was found south of Las Vegas in 1994. He had been decapitated, and the body was burned and bullet-ridden, the media reported.
His wife of seven years had previously reported him missing. She was a suspect in the death, was charged in 1999 and declared a fugitive, and was arrested in Massachusetts following a tip from someone who had seen a segment on the case on the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”
Her 10-week-trial in 2001 was one of the longest in Las Vegas history up to that time, reports said. She acknowledged that her marriage was rocky at times, but denied the killing. Prosecutors said she feared Rudin would divorce her, costing her millions of dollars in inheritance.
She is serving a life sentence.
She claimed that her first attorney, Michael Amador, had been totally unprepared to try the case. A Clark County district judge agreed with her, granting a new trial in 2008, but the state Supreme Court reversed on May 10, 2010.
Her federal petition was filed in April 2011 and denied in March 2012.
Judge Mary Murguia, writing for the Ninth Circuit, explained that Rudin’s first habeas lawyer, appointed in 2004, had been ineffective in failing to file for relief in state court. This extraordinary circumstance, the judge said, tolled the AEDPA statute of limitations, but only until Aug. 22, 2007, at which time the parties and her subsequent appointed counsel first became aware of prior counsel’s failing.
Rudin, the judge said, “offers no persuasive reason for her failure to act diligently” in failing to seek federal relief between 2007 and 2011.
Murguia acknowledged that Rudin had suffered greatly through the fault of her attorneys, both at and after trial, including the inexplicable failure of post-conviction counsel to file a federal petition in order to protect her rights while pursuing the last state petition.
“The prejudice that Rudin potentially suffered at trial has only been compounded by the inadequacies of her attorneys on collateral review, who have now precluded her from having any chance at presenting her claims in federal court,” the judge wrote.
“Thus, if ever there were a case in which equitable tolling should apply to soften the harsh impact of technical rules, perhaps this is that case. However, we are bound by AEDPA and the standards established under our caselaw and that of the U.S. Supreme Court, which circumscribe our power to grant relief to cases in which extraordinary circumstances—in other words, abandonment—made it impossible for the petitioner to file on time.”
Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain concurred.
Visiting Judge Lynn Adelman, a senior district judge from Wisconsin, dissented.
“The majority finds unfairness but concludes that our hands are tied,” the dissenting jurist argued. “I disagree with the latter proposition and conclude that, on the egregious facts of this case, the doctrine of equitable tolling is sufficiently expansive to provide petitioner with access to the federal courts.”
The case is Rudin v. Myles, 12-15362.
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