SANTA ANA (CBS) — A 60-year-old woman was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy Wednesday for murdering her husband for his life insurance policy and retirement funds.
Jurors, who deliberated about four hours before returning its verdicts in the retrial of Sandra Jessee, also found true a special-circumstance allegation that the killing was carried out for financial gain.
Jessee’s husband, her third, was cancer-stricken at the time of the murder.
Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray told the panel that Jessee was a ruthless gold digger, while the defendant’s attorney said she was a devoted wife who cared for 56-year-old Jack Jessee until the day an intruder stabbed him to death in the couple’s home.
“When I heard it, I cried inside,” the victim’s sister, Beverly Crane, said of the verdicts. “My heart felt like it was flipping over. Even though I expected a guilty verdict, you just never know.”
Crane said her sister-in-law was oddly pleasant to her the night of her husband’s death. She called, as she usually did every other day or so, and sweetly asked if Crane wanted to talk to her brother.
“She sounded so happy and bright, and usually she would sound so angry” during the calls, Crane said.
Crane recalled that she offered to bring over a pot roast — a favorite dish of her brother’s — but he declined, saying his wife was going to get him some Chicken McNuggets.
Prosecutors say Sandra Jessee went out that night to fabricate an alibi while the hit man killed her husband.
“I gave her the benefit of the doubt for two days, until I learned about all the things she did” following the murder, Crane said.
Jessee didn’t act like a bereaved widow in the days following her husband’s murder, said jury foreman James Kline, noting that the defendant went shopping at a Mervyn’s department store and paid the gardener.
Jessee testified in the retrial, but did not appear to help herself, jurors agreed.
“I just didn’t think she was believable,” said juror Cheryl Nagel, adding that the defendant appeared mostly emotionless throughout the four-week trial, even refusing to look at her husband’s photo as it was displayed for jurors.
“She never seemed sorry,” Nagel said.
Murray said Jessee’s testimony damaged her defense.
“She was so obviously lying on the witness stand. It was the best thing that could have happened to our case,” the prosecutor said.
Jessee, who faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, is scheduled to be sentenced March 2.
Murray told jurors that the conspiracy to kill the victim began with his wife, who worried that her husband’s colon cancer treatments would eat away at their nest egg. He had a 401(k) retirement account worth $262,582 and a life insurance policy worth $411,858, the prosecutor said.
Jessee asked her son to find someone to kill his stepfather for $50,000.
The plan was for Jessee to go out shopping, leaving her husband alone in the house, which she did on the afternoon of Aug. 13, 1998, Murray said. She also left a door from the garage to the home unlocked so the killer could get in.
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