Friday, May 1, 2015
Justices Unanimously Uphold Death Sentence for Insurance-Motivated Familicide
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a former Riverside resident convicted of the strangulation murders of his wife and 3-year-old daughter.
Justice Ming Chin said any error committed at the trial of Kim Kopatz for the 1999 murders of Mary Kopatz, who managed a Jenny Craig weight loss center in Riverside, and the couple’s daughter Carley was harmless given the overwhelming evidence of guilt.
Prosecutors said Kopatz was in deep financial trouble and that the killing were designed to collect about $800,000 in life insurance, as well as about $13,000 in property insurance on his wife’s jewelry.
They presented evidence the defendant wasn’t working, that his brokerage accounts had dwindled from $60,000 to almost nothing in a year, and that the family’s monthly expenses, including minimum payments on more than $100,000 in credit card debt, were twice its income.
The victim’s bodies were found in the family van about nine hours after the victims were last seen. Police quickly questioned Kim Kopatz, who said he was home working in the backyard the day the victims disappeared and who had gone to the emergency room for treatment of injuries he claimed to have sustained doing that work.
A police officer noted that he had “pretty clean” hands, which he claimed to have washed. After interviewing him for about an hour, police took him to his brother’s house.
The defense later moved to suppress the statements made during questioning, which the prosecution used to show contradictions between the defendant’s explanations of his whereabouts and other evidence. It was claimed that the questioning was a custodial interrogation and violated the defendant’s Miranda rights, but Chin disagreed.
The justice reasoned:
“When [police] told defendant he was being taken to the detective bureau because ‘hey would like to talk to him there’ defendant indicated assent by responding, ‘Fine.’ The officers did not handcuff defendant or display any weapons. Defendant walked unassisted to the patrol car. The officers did not frisk or search defendant before he entered the patrol car….The drive to the station was only 10 minutes, and defendant did not voice any complaints or opposition.
“Defendant claims that his response, ‘Fine,’ was an acquiescence to the officers’ show of authority, especially since they did not say he was free to go and he had just spent several hours in the emergency room, had no other means of transportation, and was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt….
“Defendant initiated the police encounter by reporting his wife and child missing. The officers met defendant at the emergency room, asked to speak with him, and transported him to the station without handcuffs. From the circumstances, it is reasonable to infer that defendant wanted to accompany the officers to the station, in part, to obtain a ride since he had no other means of transportation.”
The case is People v. Kopatz, 15 S.O.S. 2121.
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