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April 21, 2014

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Murder puzzle unfolds

Defense attorney Michael Amador has made a promise to those eagerly awaiting this week's murder trial of Margaret Rudin.

"This trial will be the single-most complex and intriguing case in Las Vegas history," Amador said. "What I will present is the whole story, and not bits and pieces offered by paranoid prosecutors who are afraid of losing on national TV."

Amador's boast may come as a surprise to those who watched the trial of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish, the lovers who were convicted in May of murdering gaming figure Ted Binion.

However, Rudin, who is accused of killing her fifth husband six years ago, is getting her share of attention.

Amador has spent much of the last week squeezing local reporters' questions between interviews with CBS' "Early Show" and "48 Hours."

Like the Binion murder trial, the Rudin case has an odd cast of characters -- including a former Israeli intelligence officer who now sells holy water to churches -- and such juicy motives as sex and money.

The Rudin case also has an added element: the chase. Rudin wasn't indicted until two years after her husband's death and was not arrested for two more years.

Rudin was arrested in Revere, Mass., in November 1999 after appearing on "America's Most Wanted" repeatedly.

Prosecutors believe Rudin, 56, and an unknown accomplice shot Ronald Rudin, 64, in the head numerous times while he was sleeping in the master bedroom of his home near Charleston Boulevard and Brush Street.

They contend that Rudin and her accomplice decapitated their victim to fit the body into an antique trunk, then took the trunk to Nelson's Landing at Lake Mead and set it ablaze.

The real estate developer's remains were found Jan. 22, 1995 -- one month after his wife and business associates reported his disappearance.

The motive, authorities say, was Rudin's insane jealousy of her husband's mistress and her desire to get her hands on his $11 million estate.

Rudin learned of the affair because she had been secretly recording his telephone conversations for more than four years, police say. Prosecutors intend to introduce at the trial the notes she meticulously jotted down during those conversations.

Amador agrees the primary motive in the slaying was greed. However, the people who killed Ronald Rudin are the same people who helped him make a fortune through dirty business dealings and who helped him avoid paying millions in taxes, he said.

The police, he says, conspired with the guilty parties and their high-priced attorneys to target his client.

The case against Rudin is a teetering house of cards, and he is ready to knock it over, Amador said.

A homicide

Police investigating Ronald Rudin's disappearance learned immediately that his marriage was an unhappy one. Margaret Rudin herself told investigators that her husband was having an affair with an IRS agent, and Ronald Rudin's business associates spoke about their distrust of his wife.

It wasn't until Ronald Rudin's remains were found that police knew what they had on their hands: a homicide.

According to an April 1997 grand jury transcript, their No. 1 suspect was Margaret Rudin.

Metro Detective Philip Ramos told grand jurors he grew suspicious of Rudin as soon as he told her that her husband's remains had been found and she began rubbing her eyes.

"As I'm watching her, I thought maybe she was going to injure herself," Ramos said. "She started digging her fist into her eyes, but there were no tears at all."

Two days later police began to take an even closer look at Rudin.

That was when day laborer Augustine Lovato came to them with a story.

Lovato told police that Rudin had hired him after Christmas to convert her husband's bedroom into an office. During the process, Lovato claimed he ripped up blood-stained carpet, dismantled a bloody mattress and saw a brownish substance bubbling in the master bathtub.

Lovato also gave police a box that he had forgotten to mail for Rudin. In it was a photo of a man and a romantic postcard addressed to Rudin.

A search warrant was obtained and a crime-scene specialist found evidence that blood had been splattered in the master bedroom and removed.

Over the next several months, police gathered bits and pieces of information. However, it wasn't until July 1996 that prosecutors had a tangible piece of evidence they could tie to Rudin.

Peter Price, a scuba-diving instructor, was diving near the causeway to Pyramid Island at Lake Mead when he found an object in 15 feet of water 15 feet from shore.

After bringing it up, Price discovered a .22-caliber Rueger automatic long rifle with a silencer wrapped in a T-shirt and several plastic grocery-store bags.

Police discovered Ronald Rudin had reported the gun missing in October 1988 -- one year after he married Rudin. Ballistic tests proved it was the murder weapon.

Because Ronald Rudin had such an elaborate security system, prosecutors contend only he and Rudin had access to the gun.

Rudin was indicted in April 1997.

About 80 people are expected to testify against Rudin in what prosecutors admit is a highly circumstantial case. Among the witnesses will be:

* Lovato, the day laborer.

* Sue Lyles: Ronald Rudin's alleged lover, who is expected to testify that he was going to confront his wife the day before he disappeared about letters that Margaret supposedly sent divulging Lyles' affair with Ronald.

* Sharon Melton: Ronald Rudin's longtime bookkeeper is expected to testify about Ronald's distrust of his wife and about Melton's discovery of electronic bugging devices in his office.

* Dona Cantrell: Margaret Rudin's sister is expected to testify that she was with Margaret when she purchased $1,500 worth of bugging devices and about incriminating statements her sister made following Ronald Rudin's disappearance.

* Patricia Brown: Ronald Rudin's attorney is expected to testify about Margaret Rudin's desire to have his death investigated if it was the result of violence. Brown is also expected to tell jurors that if the murderer turned out to be a beneficiary, that person was to be cut from the will.

* Crime-scene analysts and forensic pathologists: They are expected to testify about where and how Ronald Rudin died.

Unknown element

Another witness is expected to take the stand for the state, but no one knows for sure what he will say or how it will affect the case. Yehuda Sharon, a former member of the Israeli army who refused to testify about his history in intelligence when before a grand jury, met Margaret Rudin in December 1992.

Police suspect he and Rudin were lovers, but more importantly, they believe he played a part in Ronald Rudin's death.

Prosecutors intend to prove that Sharon rented a van to take the trunk with the body in it to Lake Mead. They also plan to reveal that Sharon, who is not an attorney or an estate planner, expected to receive $300,000 from Rudin after a courtroom battle with her husband's trustees.

Sharon told investigators he deserved to get paid $125 an hour to aid Rudin in her fight with the trustees. He ultimately was paid $42,000 of Rudin's $600,000 that she received in a settlement of her husband's $11 million estate.

Sharon was granted immunity from prosecution in October 1995 but has since proven to be a difficult witness.

According to grand jury transcripts, Sharon made offers to prosecutors and trustees to "crack the case" for $1 million. In subsequent meetings, however, Sharon denied knowing anything.

Amador grins when Sharon's name is mentioned. Sharon was offered immunity by a chief deputy district attorney who didn't know what Sharon was going to say.

"Rarely have I ever seen such a unique combination of naivete and inexperience in someone so well-trained in the law as Assistant District Attorney J. Charles Thompson," Amador said.

Sharon knows nothing about Ronald Rudin's death, according to Amador. If Sharon were lying, he would surely make up a better story than that he rented the van to purchase pallets of holy water bottles.

"The police targeted Margaret for the murder, and they had to have a co-conspirator, so they created one where one didn't exist," Amador said.

As for Sharon's attempts to make a little money, Amador doubts it's true. But if it is, who can blame him, Amador asks.

"If they were willing to give him immunity for a rental-car receipt, why not try to get $1 million from the same suckers?" Amador said.

Amador believes the story was created to drive a wedge between Rudin and Sharon.

Innocent

Rudin did not kill her husband, Amador said.

The blood splatters in the master bedroom? They belong to Ronald Rudin's third wife, Peggy, whose shooting death was ruled a suicide, Amador said. Amador says that there is no reliable evidence that Ronald Rudin was murdered in his bedroom.

The investigation in the bedroom "was a forensic nightmare," Amador said.

"They (state experts) took the kindergarten approach," Amador said.

And Lovato's story is replete with lies, Amador said. Two Metro missing-persons detectives stood in the bedroom before it was converted and didn't see or smell anything.

The taped phone conversations? A means for Rudin to protect herself if the IRS caught on to her husband's illegal land deals, Amador said.

"Margaret was scared to death of the IRS coming in, auditing Ronald, taking everything and putting Ronald in jail, leaving her nothing," Amador said. "It was a necessity.

"She had been married four times before and was not a neophyte when it came to men and their peculiarities, their dispositions. She did it to protect herself."

Rudin was also used to infidelity and most certainly didn't kill her husband over his affair, Amador said.

"Sure, she was upset and the affair caused her pain, but it was not something she hadn't seen with this or any of her prior husbands, some of them rich," Amador said. "She didn't kill any of them, either."

In fact, Amador doesn't believe the letter that divulged Ronald Rudin's affair with Lyles was even written by his client.

"She's got too much class for that," Amador said.

Amador also questioned how anyone could believe that Rudin stole the murder weapon seven years before her husband died.

"The gun was not lost," Amador said. "Ron had it or he gave it to a friend or he sold it to a friend -- the same friend he recognized on the evening of Dec. 18, 1994, when he opened the door. No one's seen him alive since."

Amador said he intends to prove Ronald Rudin was killed by those who helped him in his shady dealings and who stood to gain from his death.

"Like the district attorney's theory of the case, their witnesses and 'mountain of evidence' are nothing more than a house of cards, so, too, was Ronald Rudin's business empire," Amador said.

Perhaps a "bunch of men smoking cigars and drinking beer" will believe the state's theory about greed and jealousy, but no woman will, Amador said.

"If you have any understanding of psychology, history or criminology, women don't do that, men do," Amador said. "That kind of mutilation is done by men over money or, in rare cases, serial killers. Women don't even order stuff like that -- they want it clean."

Amador said he isn't sure if his client will take the stand.

"She's wanted, for years, to be able to stand up and tell her story," Amador said. "I'm just concerned her health and the treatment she's received in jail has left her too weak to stand up to more punishment by the state."

The trial before District Judge Joseph Bonaventure is expected to last at least four weeks.

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