(born May 31, 1943), is an American woman convicted in the
December 1994 murder of her fifth husband, real estate magnate
Margaret Rudin was born in Memphis, Tennessee,
one of three daughters of a barber. The family moved frequently
and she had lived in 15 states before graduating from high school.
She had been married four times before meeting Ronald Rudin at the
First Church of Religious Science in Las Vegas. They married in
In 2002, the Nevada Supreme Court denied
Margaret Rudin's appeal finding she was not denied effective
assistance of counsel. As of 2008, no record of federal collateral
review could be found.
In 2008, Rudin was given a new trial. Clark
County District Judge Sally Loehrer ruled that lawyerss for
Margaret Rudin, then 65 years old, were not prepared to defend her
at her 2001 trial, according to lawyers on both sides of the case.
She also ruled that Rudin's lead attorney at the time, Michael
Amador, was not effective, according to Christopher Oram, Rudin's
KLTV-8 News reported on 10 May 2010, that the
Nevada Supreme Court ruled against convicted Rudin and ruled she
would not get another trial. The lower Appeals Court's ruling was
overturned and the original conviction stood.
On April 26, 2011, the Las Vegas Sun
reported that Margaret Rudin had filed a habeas corpus petition in
federal court seeking a new trial and reversal of her conviction
based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel, impermissible
hearsay testimony, faulty jury instructions and other points.
On January 25, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge
Roger L. Hunt dismissed Margaret Rudin’s federal habeas corpus
case with prejudice. In a nine-page decision, Judge Hunt found
that Rudin’s federal petition was not filed in a timely manner.
The ruling paves the way for an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Grandmother convicted in husband’s 1994
murder seeking new trial
By Steve Green - Las Vegas Sun
April 26, 2011
Margaret Rudin, the grandmother convicted after
a sensational trial in the 1994 murder of her wealthy Las Vegas
husband, is trying yet again for a new trial.
The Nevada Supreme Court last year denied Rudin
a new trial.
But on Monday, Las Vegas attorney Christopher
Oram filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court seeking a new
trial and reversal of her conviction based on allegedly
ineffective assistance of trial counsel, allegedly impermissible
hearsay testimony, allegedly faulty jury instructions and other
Rudin in 2001 was sentenced to life in prison
with the possibility of parole after 20 years. She had been
convicted by a jury after a 10-week trial in which prosecutors
said she and an accomplice killed Ronald Rudin, 64, because
Margaret Rudin stood to lose $6 million if Ronald Rudin divorced
The case was noteworthy at the time in part
because after Margaret Rudin reported her husband missing, his
decapitated, burned and bullet-ridden body was found at Nelson’s
Landing on the Colorado River south of Las Vegas.
After she was charged, Margaret Rudin was a
fugitive but was arrested after someone in Massachusetts
recognized her from the TV show "America’s Most Wanted." She had
been living under an assumed name in Revere, Mass.
Murder in Las Vegas
By David Kohn - CBSNews.com
February 11, 2009
On Dec. 18, 1994, real estate millionaire Ron
Rudin disappeared from his home in Las Vegas. His skull and some
charred bones were found in January 1995 in the desert near Lake
Mohave, about 45 miles from Las Vegas.
After a two-year investigation, police moved to
arrest Ron's wife, Margaret Rudin. But before they could arrest
her, she went on the lam. After two years on the run, she was
arrested in Massachusetts, and brought back to Las Vegas, where
she stood trial for murder.
Is this soft-spoken grandmother guilty of a
brutal murder? 48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow
Soon after they were married, Margaret says she
began to see another side of Ron. She says he began drinking, and
he began an affair. But she says she was determined to make the
Margaret Rudin, now 58, admits there were
problems in her marriage, but says she did not kill her husband.
"I don't have a history of staying with somebody if I'm really
unhappy," she says. "I have a history of divorcing." It was her,
as well as Ron's, fifth marriage.
But soon after they were married, he began
drinking and having an affair. She says this didn't make her
angry. "You know why? It's because 99 percent of the men that I've
ever had in my life had affairs. Ninety percent of men do, you
might as well expect it." In spite of everything, she says she
loved Ron and was determined to make her marriage work.
Homicide detectives Jimmy Vacarro was assigned
to the case. "We know there was this real rocky roller-coaster
relationship between Margaret Rudin and her husband," says
Is she capable of murder? "Without a doubt." He
says it took Margaret two days to file a missing persons report
and that she did so only after Ron's coworkers informed police
first. "Generally speaking, the spouse is missing, the wife's the
one reporting it," says Vaccaro.
Earlier this year, Margaret Rudin's trial
finally began. The trial, which featured over a hundred witnesses,
wrapped up in May.
During the trial, prosecutors brought up the
fact that Margaret had hired a man named Augustine Lovato to
remodel the bedroom before Ron's body had been found. Prosecutors
said Margaret was trying to clean up the murder scene by removing
furniture and carpeting.
Margaret has many defenders, including her
daughter Kristina Mason. Mason remembers the good times growing up
with her mother in Zion, Ill. "She's just a wonderful person and
I'm proud to say she's my mother," says Mason, who believes that
her mother is innocent.
Margaret's mother, Eloise Frost, 80, also says
her daughter is innocent. "I want to live long enough to see
Margaret pronounced innocent, because she is innocent."
But prosecutors brought a series of powerful
witnesses, including Margaret's own sister, Donna Cantrell, who
says she knows first-hand how anxious Margaret was to be free of
"I said, 'I thought you were going to divorce
him,' and she sid, 'He's not in very good health. He can't even
walk without being out of breath, and I think I'll wait.'"
The two sisters do not get along. "We have a
long running history of not speaking," says Margaret Rudin.
Cantrell says that Margaret told her what to say if police called:
"To tell them that she and Ron were getting along better than
ever. And that the girlfriend wasn't an issue." Cantrell says that
she doesn't think that this statement would have been true.
The defense suggested that there were others
who had a motive to murder Ron Rudin. Sharon Cooper and Harold
Boscutti are the trustees and beneficiaries of Ron's estate.
Margaret says that they took control of Ron's fortune. Boscutti
made more than a million dollars from the transaction. "The death
of Ron Rudin made some people millionaires. One of them was not
Margaret Rudin," said one of Margaret's lawyer Tom Pitaro. But
prosecutors said Cooper and Boscutti were simply following the
instructions in the will.
After a nine-week trial, and five days of
deliberations, the jury came back with a guilty verdict.
But after the trial, one juror said she had
been coerced by the others into voting for a guilty verdict. She
said that she didn't think Margaret Rudin was guilty. The other
jurors disagreed with her version of events.
On Aug. 30, a judge sentenced Margaret Rudin to
at least 20 years in prison.
"You're going to be locked away in the cold
confines of your prison cell, never to be heard from again," Judge
Joseph Bonaventure told Rudin at the sentencing.
More Information On The Case
Antique dealer Bruce Honabach, witness for the
prosecution, testified at trial he sold Margaret Rudin an antique
humpback trunk just months before Ron Rudin's disappearance, a
trunk he says he purchased from a man named Donald Schaupeter.
Honabach also claimed the trunk he sold Margaret Rudin matched the
one found amongst Ron Rudin's charred remains. Furthermore,
Honabach testified that Margaret repeatedly told him she wished
her husband were dead. But defense attorney Tom Pitaro questioned
Honabach's motivation for coming forward with this information, a
full six years after the murder. He further pointed out that
Honabach was unable to provide any documentation proving that he
sold Margaret Rudin a trunk.
At the eleventh hour, Donald Schaupeter came
forward to dispute Honabach's testimony, and denied ever having
sold Honabach such a trunk.
THE HANDYMAN & THE REWARD
Defense attorney Tom Pitaro said Augustine
Lovato, the handyman who says he saw blood in Margaret Rudin's
master bedroom, lied to the police in order to receive a reward.
Trustees for the Rudin estate offered $25,000 for information
leading to the conviction of Ron Rudin's murderer. Lovato said he
knew nothing about the money prior to coming forward. Attorneys
for the trustees have recently confirmed that Lovato will receive
the entire $5,000.
THE BURN SITE
The badly charred remains of Ron Rudin were
found in the desert, forty miles outside Las Vegas city limits.
Prosecutors believed Margaret Rudin set his body on fire,
attempting to destroy evidence. But defense attorneys said that
the condition of Rudin's remains was not consistent with the
prosecution's theory. Defense experts testified that Margaret
Rudin would have needed more than fifty gallons of gasoline to
fuel a fire capable of burning her husband's body to the degree it
MARGARET RUDIN'S BEHAVIOR
Margaret Rudin's behavior immediately following
her husband's disappearance was repeatedly called into question
during the trial. Her own sister, Donna Cantrell, testified that
Margaret was more concerned about her husband's financial affairs
than his whereabouts. On Christmas day, one week after Rudin's
disappearance, she said Margaret called a locksmith to open Ron's
office and rummaged through his financial documents. Margaret
Rudin says she did so because the trustees of her husband's estate
had prevented her from getting access to any of his assets and had
already begun to shut her out.
During the trial, several witnesses for the
prosecution testified Ron Rudin was concerned about his safety,
specifically mentioning his wife Margaret as a potential threat.
His attorney Pat Brown testified he was worried about being killed
for his money, which is why he had the directive, a provision in
is his will requesting a full investigation into his death should
he die by violent means. Brown said she originally advised Ron to
specifically mention Margaret in that directive. But Ron decided
against it, fearing he would upset Margaret should it be
determined she was not responsible for his death. Margaret denied
Ron feared her, pointing out that not long before his
disappearance he increased the percentage of her inheritance from
his estate should he die.
Rudin gets life with possibility of parole
By Kim Smith - Las Vegas Sun
August 31, 2001
Margaret Rudin was sentenced this morning to
life in prison with parole possible after 20 years in the December
1994 death of her husband, Ronald Rudin.
District Judge Joseph Bonaventure also ordered
Rudin to serve a concurrent sentence of 19 months to 4 years in
prison for wiretapping her husband's office. In addition, Rudin
will have to spend an extra month in prison for refusing to give
authorities a handwriting sample.
The Department of Parole and Probation had
recommended Rudin receive a no-parole life term.
Jurors convicted Rudin of first-degree murder
May 1 after sitting through 10-weeks of testimony.
Prosecutors allege Rudin, 58, and an unnamed
accomplice shot Ronald Rudin, 64, to death in his bed in December
1994 and then burned his remains in a trunk near Lake Mohave.
Before proceeding to the sentencing today,
Bonaventure ruled that Rudin didn't deserve a new trial. Her new
defense attorneys had claimed one of her attorneys, Michael
Amador, was incompetent and she should be tried again. In his
written decision, Bonaventure notes that the defense attorneys
called no witnesses to the stand during a hearing last week to
Although the judge had earlier said he would
take into consideration affidavits the attorneys had submitted, he
wrote that they are "legally insufficient, as conclusions, rumors,
beliefs, and opinions are not sufficient to form a basis for a new
Later, the judge noted, "As to Mr. Amador's
personal antics which the defense seems to harp upon as
tantalizing tidbits, this court feels it is not honorable to kick
a man when he is down as the record speaks for itself."
The judge said Rudin, at taxpayer expense, also
had at her side criminal defense attorneys Thomas Pitaro and John
Amador took on the case for free after Rudin
fired her public defenders, but Bonaventure ended up appointing
Pitaro and two investigators to the case three weeks before trial
when questions arose as to Amador's preparedness.
Momot joined the defense team a few weeks into
Amador became a favorite topic of debate among
trial watchers, journalists and attorneys who offered their
opinions every night on the TV news after he gave a lengthy and
rambling opening statement.
The scrutiny increased when Amador and
Bonaventure began butting heads over everything from Amador's cell
phone ringing in the courtroom and his tardiness to the relevance
of certain documents and lines of questioning.
In his decision Friday, Bonaventure wrote, "The
day that a judge cannot comment on the evidence in a case before
him, or the applicability of precedential law to the case, will be
the day that a free and independent judiciary is dead."
Rumors also began circulating that Amador was
using drugs and spending his evening with strippers instead of
preparing for the next day's witnesses.
Rudin ended up asking for a mistrial.
Bonaventure denied the motion, but gave the defense attorneys a
few days off to better prepare. Rudin's new defense attorneys say
the denial of the mistrial was just one of many mistakes made by
The new attorneys also claimed the judge
improperly met with Rudin without any attorneys being present.
The judge ruled last week that any allegations
about himself or prosecutors are "without merit" and said he would
base his decision about a new trial simply on the allegations of
At the hearing last week, Deputy Public
Defender Craig Creel spent an hour cataloguing Amador's alleged
On Thursday, prosecutors submitted an affidavit
from Amador in an effort to rebut the defense's contention that
Amador was unprepared.
In it, Amador said "Nobody worked harder or
spent more time before or during the Rudin trial nor knew the case
better than I."
Despite his former secretary's allegations to
the contrary, Amador said he spent many hours on the case from the
time he took it in August 2000 and his European vacation in
Amador said he filed at least 24 motions and
investigated "all major witnesses" in the case and organized their
files prior to the vacation.
The defense attorney also said he deserves the
credit for the more technical aspects of the case.
"With the limited exception of the DNA experts,
every other forensic and scientific issue raised in the Rudin case
was documented and researched prior to Mr. Pitaro's involvement in
the case," Amador said.
'Black Widow' guilty of first-degree murder
May 2, 2001
LAS VEGAS — After five tumultuous days
of deliberations, a jury Wednesday rejected conspiracy theories
and charges of police misconduct and convicted so-called Black
Widow Margaret Rudin of murdering her millionaire fifth husband.
The panel of seven women and five men weighed
evidence for nearly 28 hours before finding Rudin guilty of
first-degree murder and illegal wiretapping. She faces life in
prison when sentenced June 8.
The 57-year-old grandmother showed no reaction
as the foreman, a burly special education teacher named Ronald
Vest, glared at her across a rapt courtroom, paused dramatically
and then confidently announced, "We find the defendant guilty."
The first-degree murder conviction surprised
many court observers since the foreman wrote a note to the judge
Tuesday saying the panel was split 11 to 1 on a lesser count than
murder, an accessory charge that carried only five years in
The juror — #11 — who had held out for
acquittal until changing her mind Wednesday morning clutched a
tissue as she entered the court and sobbed throughout the verdict.
When asked during the jury poll if what the foreman had read was
indeed her verdict, she waited a moment before replying softly,
"Yes." The foreman later said the jury had done a trial run of the
poll in the deliberating room to ensure she would not renege on
her guilty vote.
Her ambivalence, however, was clear. As Judge
Joseph Bonaventure thanked the panel for its ten weeks of work on
the case, the middle-aged nurse and mother of three pushed her
long brown bangs from her tear-stained face and mouthed to Rudin,
The verdict came after acrimonious and uniquely
public deliberations in which the lone holdout was repeatedly
accused of misconduct. She admitted phoning an alternate to
discuss the case, and was further accused of lying during jury
selection and refusing to deliberate. Defense attorney Michael
Amador, who seemed stunned by the decision, wondered if the judge
and other jurors had "brow-beaten" juror #11 into convicting.
But foreman Vest denied "twisting her arm."
"We didn't bribe her or threaten her," he said.
"She came to this on her own."
For the other 11, Vest said, Rudin's guilt was
clear early on. He described the defense's case as "a waste of
time, Amador as "bordering on incompetent," and the guilty verdict
as "a slam dunk with a stepladder."
"The evidence was overwhelming, we couldn't get
away from it," the Navy veteran said.
Killing of a
With their verdict, the jury endorsed the
prosecution's theory that Rudin, frustrated with her husband's
philandering and fearful that he would divorce her, killed the
real estate developer to get at his $11 million fortune.
Ron Rudin's bullet-ridden skull and charred
bones were discovered in a remote desert fire pit in 1995, a month
after his employees reported him missing. Prosecutors said Rudin
shot him as he slept in the couple's bedroom and then disposed of
his body with help from her lover, a holy oil salesman named
Although much of the state's case was expert
testimony about blood stains found in the Rudins' residence,
prosecutors Gary Guymon and Chris Owens concentrated in closing
arguments on bits and pieces of circumstantial evidence that
pointed to Rudin.
According to witnesses, Rudin was slow to
contact police about his disappearance and expressed little worry
about his absence even as she rifled through his financial papers
in search of his will.
"Margaret Rudin did not want to find Ron Rudin.
She wanted to find his money," Guymon told the jury during his
In the dramatic highpoint of the testimony,
Rudin's own sister, Dona Cantrell-Robinson, took the stand for the
prosecution and told jurors her older sister was more concerned
with her husband's assets than his welfare in the days after he
vanished. A pair of police detectives testified Rudin asked no
questions and showed no emotion when told he had been murdered.
And a handyman recounted removing red-stained,
foul-smelling carpet from the master bedroom and redecorating the
room as a home office. Prosecutors also told jurors of the more
than two years Rudin spent on the run from the murder charges,
calling witnesses from her fugitive days in Arizona and
Massachusetts where she lived under assumed names. It was during
this time the television show 'America's Most Wanted' dubbed her
the Black Widow.
The jury began deliberating
Thursday after hearing 13 hours of closing arguments, an
experience Vest described as "grueling."
The jury foreman described how the panel came
up with 97 pieces of evidence pointing toward the defendant's
guilt and only five pointing away from her. Among the evidence
Vest said jurors found especially compelling was the murder
weapon. Rudin was killed by a handgun with a silencer that he had
reported missing six years before the crime. At that time, he
suspected his wife had taken it, and Vest said the jurors made a
list of people who had access to the gun, and of them only Sharon,
who was granted immunity, and Rudin were logical suspects.
Vest said he was also convinced by a directive
Ron Rudin had placed in his will, ordering his beneficiaries to
take "extraordinary steps" to investigate his death if he was
killed violently and to cut whoever committed the murder out of
his will. Ron Rudin's lawyer testified the millionaire thought his
wife was "vicious and violent" and might try to kill him.
The jury found unbelievable the defense theory
that the trustees of Ron Rudin's estate had him killed because
they stood to gain financially from his death and were insiders in
his shady land deals. Rudin's lawyers suggested the police ignored
solid leads pointing away from Margaret Rudin and were ultimately
in cahoots with Rudin's trustees.
"I didn't buy any of it. I don't think any of
us bought any of the defense case," Vest said, adding that even
juror #11 never claimed that Rudin was innocent, just that the
state hadn't proven its case.
The foreman said the "mountain of evidence" had
11 of the jurors ready to convict as early as Thursday, but "one
person from the beginning did not see it that way."
He said juror #11 seemed so bent on acquitting
Rudin that he began to wonder if she had been bribed or threatened
or simply wanted attention. He confronted her about his
suspicions, and she denied them, Vest said.
"For whatever reason, she just sympathized with
Margaret," he said.
Over the weekend, juror #11 phoned an alternate
to vent her frustration at the deliberations. The alternate
informed Bonaventure, who spoke with the woman and decided to
leave her on the jury. The prosecution wanted her off, and
prosecutor Owens charged that had she not been the lone holdout
the judge would have dismissed her "in three seconds."
Her problems continued Tuesday when Vest wrote
two letters to the judge asking that she be thrown off for failing
to deliberate, being overemotional and concealing a domestic
violence incident from the court which the foreman feared had made
her "bitter" toward authorities. Again Bonaventure left her on the
jury, but many observers felt a hung jury was likely.
Vest said he considered walking out of the jury
room Tuesday night and telling the bailiff the jury was hung. But
Vest, a high school teacher who works with students with
behavioral problems, said, "I don't give up that easily."
His patience paid off on Wednesday morning.
Juror #11 finally budged.
"There was a little bit of swearing. It was
fast and furious but we hashed it out," Vest said of the last
flurry of deliberations.
Vest, who wore cowboy boots with golden tips
and donned a tie with a gold 'Teachers Rule' pin before doing
interviews after the verdict, said he believed he was uniquely
qualified to broker a deal and that some guiding force led him to
remain on the jury and be the foreman. He recounted a time in
March when he tried to get off the jury to return to his students,
who were having difficulty getting along without him. He said they
had gone through "six substitutes, three of which said they would
never come back and one who just sat at the desk shaking like he
was scared." The principal wanted Vest back in the classroom. But
the judge refused, and "my principal said, Well, maybe there's
some reason why you need to be on this jury."
After the verdict, Amador sat in the courthouse
hallway, looking dejected as one of his three ex-wives tried to
"They make me sick," he said of the
prosecutors. "I don't know how it is that right-thinking people
can find someone guilty with no evidence."
He has always claimed that the key to his
client's innocence lay in boxes of complicated financial records,
but from the start, the lawyer had difficulty presenting his case.
After a long, rambling opening and several poor
cross-examinations, Amador and Rudin asked Judge Joseph
Bonaventure for a mistrial because of his substandard
representation. The judge refused, but Amador subsequently took a
more marginal role in the defense. Co-counsel Tom Pitaro convinced
his good friend and noted defense attorney John Momot to join the
team, and the pair took the lead role.
Amador and his stumbles, however, remained
center stage to the end. He ignored Bonaventure's instruction to
give a short closing on the financial records and leave the rest
for Pitaro's argument. The judge called him a liar with no
personal integrity, and then refused to allow Amador to speak to
him directly. He also demanded that the lawyer whisper his
communications through Pitaro.
Amador continued his quest until minutes before
the verdict was reached, submitting a memo to the judge that
alleging another juror had acted inappropriately.
Bonaventure made his opinion of Amador clear
after the verdict without uttering a single word against him. He
thanked at length the prosecutors, Momot and Pitaro, but said
nothing of Amador.
After the verdict, Rudin's daughter, Kristina
Mason, a constant at the courthouse since the close of the case,
stood in the hallway crying.
"I'm so disappointed," she said.
'Black Widow' murder trial begins
Socialite accused of shooting, burning and
decapitating her wealthy husband
National Post news service
March 2, 2001
LAS VEGAS - Dubbed "The Black Widow" during
more than two years on the run, a wealthy Las Vegas socialite goes
on trial today for the murder of her millionaire husband.
It has been more than six years since the
bullet-ridden, charred and decapitated remains of Ron Rudin were
discovered on a remote shore of the Colorado River in Nevada.
Prosecutors believe his wife Margaret, jealous
of his infidelities and eager to take over his US$10-million
estate, shot him in their bedroom while he slept, packed the body
in a trunk and dumped it near the river. Police believe she likely
had an accomplice in the grisly crime, but no other charges have
ever been laid.
Ms. Rudin faces life in prison without parole
Her husband, a 64-year-old real estate
developer, disappeared in December, 1994, after going out to see a
movie, his 56-year-old wife told police.
Investigators, however, were immediately
suspicious -- Ms. Rudin had waited two days before reporting her
husband missing and displayed little emotion during the initial
Suspicions deepened when Mr. Rudin's body was
found, but it would be April, 1997 -- more than two years later --
before authorities built a strong enough case against Ms. Rudin to
seek an indictment.
Police had a strong circumstantial case. Ms.
Rudin stood to gain 60% of her husband's US$10-million estate --
except for one unusual clause that seemed to point to his own
suspicions of his wife.
"In the event my death is caused by violent
means [for example gunshot, knife or a violent automobile
accident] extraordinary steps be taken in investigating the true
cause of the death," Mr. Rudin's will reads. "Should said death be
caused directly or indirectly by a beneficiary of my estate, said
beneficiary shall be totally excluded from my estate and/or any
trusts I may have in existence."
Mr. Rudin's other heirs, in what amounted to a
murder trial in probate court, tried to prove his wife had killed
him. The case was settled in January, 1996, with Ms. Rudin
reportedly pocketing US$500,000 from the inheritance.
Ron Rudin met Margaret at church, and they
married in 1987, the fifth marriage for both. Within months,
authorities say, the marriage became strained.
Ms. Rudin began bugging her husband's office in
1991, her sister testified before the 1997 grand jury, convinced
her husband was cheating on her. Police found listening devices in
Su Lyles, a close friend and a former employee
of Mr. Rudin's, confirmed her suspicions, testifying that in the
fall of 1993, their relationship became more intimate. At least
twice, she said, they had discussed their feelings for each other
over the telephone during calls made from his office.
The day before he disappeared, Mr. Rudin said
he had visited the Mayo Clinic to determine if he was being
poisoned, Ms. Lyles said.
Shortly after his body was found, police
interviewed a young man named Augustine Lobato, who said Ms. Rudin
hired him a few weeks earlier to remove a mattress and the bedroom
carpet. The carpet had a gooey brownish-red stain and smelled
mildewy, Mr. Lobato told the grand jury, and he noticed blood on a
framed photograph of Ms. Rudin above the bed.
"It didn't seem right," he testified, "him
still being missing and me turning their master bedroom into an
office and then those splatters on that picture. Like I got the
Investigators later found blood on the walls
Remnants of a trunk found near his scorched
remains were similar to a trunk Ms. Rudin once had in her Las
Vegas antique store, other witnesses testified.
In July, 1996, a diver found a .22-calibre
Ruger with a silencer, wrapped in plastic bags under about 15 feet
of water. Experts declared it the murder weapon. Federal officials
said it belonged to Mr. Rudin, a licensed gun dealer, who had
reported the weapon missing a few months after he and Ms. Rudin
After about six weeks of testimony, the grand
jury handed down an indictment.
By then, Ms. Rudin had disappeared. She spent
two-and-a-half years on the run, changing her appearance and name
as she hop-scotched across the continent between stints in
Chicago, Arizona, Mexico and Massachusetts. Dubbed "The Black
Widow" during three features on America's Most Wanted, Ms. Rudin
even sweet-talked her way out of custody in September, 1998, when
police in Phoenix, Ariz., picked her up for questioning.
Authorities caught up with her in November,
1999, in Revere, Mass., where she was living in near-squalor with
a retired firefighter.
Her defence claims Mr. Rudin was involved in
gun running, drug trafficking and tax evasion, and was killed by a
business associate he double-crossed. His penchant for nosebleeds
and a suicide by his third wife explain the blood found in the
"If you have any understanding of psychology,
history or criminology, women don't do that, men do," said Michael
Amador, her defence attorney, of the grisly crime. "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
Supreme Court of Nevada
Rudin v. State
Margaret RUDIN, Appellant, v. The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
April 01, 2004
Before the Court En Banc.1
Marcus D. Cooper, Public Defender, and Craig D.
Creel, Deputy Public Defender, Clark County, for Appellant.Brian
Sandoval, Attorney General, Carson City; David J. Roger, District
Attorney, James Tufteland, Chief Deputy District Attorney, and
Christopher J. Owens, Deputy District Attorney, Clark County, for
This is an appeal from a judgment of conviction
on Count I, unauthorized surreptitious intrusion of privacy by
listening device and Count II, murder with use of a deadly weapon.
Appellant Margaret Rudin argues that she is entitled to a new
trial because: (1) the district court abused its discretion by
admitting unreliable expert testimony, (2) the State deprived her
of her right to a fair trial by engaging in repeated instances of
prosecutorial misconduct, (3) the district court deprived her of
her right to a fair trial by engaging in repeated instances of
judicial misconduct, and (4) one of her trial counsel was unable
to adequately prepare for trial depriving her of her right to a
fair trial. We conclude that Rudin's arguments are without merit
and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment of conviction.
The victim, Ronald (Ron) Rudin, and the
appellant, Margaret Rudin (Rudin), were married in September 1987.
Ron owned a realty company that was located in a strip mall
which he also owned. Rudin and Ron shared a private residence
located directly behind the mall.
According to Rudin's sister, Dona Cantrell,
Rudin would often complain that Ron was stingy, and that Rudin
hoped he would die from his poor health. In 1991, following an
altercation between Rudin and Ron's employees, Ron forbade Rudin
from entering his realty office before 5:00 p.m. Around this same
time, Ron also removed a phone line shared between his office and
his residence after his employees claimed that Rudin had been
eavesdropping on their conversations. After Ron terminated the
shared phone line, Rudin and Cantrell secretly placed hidden
listening devices in Ron's office. These devices transmitted a
signal to a receiver and recorder that Rudin kept in the residence
and allowed her to eavesdrop undetected.
According to Ron's attorney, Patricia Brown,
Ron had characterized Rudin, who was a forty-percent beneficiary
of his trust, as becoming increasingly “vicious and violent.”
Accordingly, in 1991, Ron executed a secret directive to the
trustees of his estate that they take “extraordinary steps” to
investigate the cause of his death if he died by “violent means.”
The directive also provided that any beneficiary who caused his
death was not to receive any assets from his estate. In 1993,
Ron increased Rudin's share in his trust to sixty percent.
In 1994, eavesdropping with the aid of her
listening devices, Rudin discovered that Ron was involved in a
romantic affair with a woman who was also a former employee.
During this same time period, Rudin developed a close relationship
with Yehuda Sharon.
On the evening of December 18, 1994, a tenant
at Ron's strip mall stated that she spotted Ron walking towards
Rudin's antique store which was also located at the mall. Around
8:10 p.m., a friend of Rudin's testified that she called the
residence and spoke to Ron, who told her that Rudin was not there.
Rudin claims that she called Ron from her cellular phone between
8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Her cellular phone records, however, contain no
record of this call. Rudin claims that after the call she worked
late at her antique store until about 1:15 a.m. on December 19,
1994. A friend of Rudin's, Jeanne Nakashima, testified that she
was with Rudin at the antique store from approximately 9:15 p.m.
until 12:45 a.m.2
At 2:20 a.m., Rudin stopped by the office of Carol Kawazoe, who
was working late with her husband at her tax preparation office,
which was also located at the strip mall. Kawazoe, who had never
previously met Rudin, testified that Rudin introduced herself and
spent no less than thirty minutes making pleasant conversation
with Kawazoe and her husband. According to Rudin, she then
returned home and discovered that Ron and his vehicle were gone.
Rudin claims that she was not worried because she believed that
Ron was probably upset that she had been working so much and had
likely decided to go out by himself.
On Monday morning, December 19, 1994, Ron did
not appear at the realty office although he ordinarily opened the
office on Monday mornings. One of Ron's employees called his
residence and received no answer.
On the evening of December 19, 1994, Yehuda
Sharon, Rudin's close friend, rented a large passenger van from a
rental car agency in Las Vegas. According to Sharon, he had
rented the van to pick up a shipment of holy oils from a business
in Santa Fe Springs, California. Sharon had directed the rental
car agency to remove the back passenger seat from the van.
Sharon returned the van on December 23, 1994, with 348 miles
logged. Sharon told investigators that he drove to California on
December 22, 1994, but that he never reached his planned
destination because he decided to turn around midway due to a
trucker's comment that it was raining in California.
On December 20, 1994, two of Ron's employees
went to a local police station to report Ron's disappearance.
The police officer contacted Rudin and explained that she would
accept the report made by the two employees unless Rudin was going
to make a report. Rudin made a missing persons report early that
On December 21, 1994, Rudin hired a day
laborer, Augustine Lovato, to clean some stains on the carpet in
front of her washer and dryer. According to Lovato, the stains
had already been partially cleaned and appeared to be a dark brown
On December 22, 1994, police detectives
interviewed Rudin at her antique store and, with Rudin's
permission, performed a cursory search of the residence. The
search revealed nothing unusual. Rudin's sister, Cantrell,
testified that on or about that same day she visited Rudin at
Rudin's residence. She noticed that Rudin was reviewing Ron's
will and trust documents, which Rudin had retrieved from Ron's
realty office the previous Monday, December 19, 1994.
On December 23, 1994, Ron's car was discovered
parked in an alley behind the Crazy Horse Too Saloon in Las Vegas.
The car was locked, and the police retrieved two sets of keys to
the vehicle from the car's interior. The police also noted that
dirt had been tracked onto all four floorboards of the car. Upon
further investigation, several latent fingerprints were lifted
from the vehicle, none of which belonged to Ron or Rudin.
On the evening of December 25, 1994, Rudin
hired a locksmith and gained entry into Ron's realty office.
According to Cantrell, she and Rudin spent several hours in Ron's
office gathering various documents that Rudin said she would need,
including numerous financial documents, documents relating to the
suicide of Ron's former wife and documents reflecting that a
family member of Ron's former wife had years earlier made a death
threat against Ron.
On December 29, 1994, Cantrell was working with
Rudin at her antique shop when Detective Frank Janise entered the
store and asked to speak with Rudin. After speaking with Rudin,
Detective Janise approached Cantrell in another part of the store.
According to Cantrell, she was speaking with Detective Janise
when Rudin approached them and told the detective, “Ron always
wears black pants and Ron always wears black boots.” Cantrell
testified that Rudin later indicated to Cantrell that Rudin had
“caught” herself talking about Ron in the past tense and had made
a point of going back to speak with the detective.
Cantrell also claimed that, around this same
time, she helped Rudin gather several documents from inside an
antique desk in Rudin's antique shop. The documents included a
notebook with an entry in Rudin's handwriting itemizing Ron's
total assets. Additionally, Cantrell stated that she retrieved a
certificate from a firearm safety course that Rudin had completed
in November 1993, along with a handwritten note stating that “it's
you or him; get him first.”
On January 12, 1995, Rudin hired Lovato to help
her turn the master bedroom into an office. Lovato dismantled
the bed, which had been stripped of its bedding, and removed the
mattress and bedspring. Lovato claimed that Rudin instructed him
to remove all the furniture from the room and cut out the 9-by
12-foot area of carpeting directly underneath the bed. According
to Lovato, as he cut the carpet he noticed dark reddish brown
stains and a strong odor that he likened to the odor of his dogs
after they had been chewing on rabbits. After he began working
on the carpet, Lovato claims that Rudin told him that she had
gotten good news from her attorneys and, therefore, he should
remove all of the carpet because she was going to recarpet the
entire master bedroom. While removing the carpet, Lovato noticed
several reddish brown splatters on a large glamour shot of Rudin
that was hanging over the area where the bed had been.
Lovato testified that when he returned to do
some additional work several days later, the master bedroom was
newly carpeted, and the glamour shot portrait had been moved to
the guest room. The reddish brown splatters were no longer on
the photo. Lovato also claimed that at some point he heard a
gurgling sound coming from the master bathroom, where he observed
a reddish brown blob bubbling out of the bathtub drain. Lovato
testified that Rudin returned to the residence with a U-Haul
truck, into which he loaded the mattress, box spring and a
cardboard wardrobe closet. Later, at Rudin's direction, he
unloaded the items in an alley and abandoned them there.
That same day, Rudin asked Lovato to mail a
package addressed to her mother. Lovato forgot to mail the
package, and ultimately turned it over to the police. After
obtaining a search warrant, police opened the package and
discovered several personal items inside, including a postcard
from Israel signed “Love, Yehuda,” a photo of Yehuda Sharon and a
handwritten letter from Rudin to her mother containing the
message, “Please hold on to my Ye.”
On the night of January 21, 1995, fishermen
discovered charred remains near Nelson's Landing at Lake Mohave.
Only a skull and 500 grams of bone matter remained. Police
investigators were ultimately able to positively identify the
remains as Ron's by consulting his dental records. Investigators
identified the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds to the
head. Investigators also recovered three .22 caliber bullets
from inside Ron's skull as well as two bullet fragments.
Detectives met with Rudin on January 23, 1995, to notify her that
they had identified Ron's remains. According to the detectives,
Rudin displayed no visible signs of emotion other than rubbing her
knuckle into her eye.
Found with Ron's remains were the burnt
remnants of a large steamer trunk. Cantrell told investigators
that she had seen a similar trunk in Rudin's antique shop during
the shop's grand opening. Cantrell claimed that she never saw
the trunk again after that date. Police also interviewed an
antique dealer, Bruce Honabach, who recalled selling such a trunk
to Rudin in 1994.
On the evening of January 27, 1995, the police,
armed with a warrant, searched Rudin's residence and discovered in
the former master bedroom, minute splatters of a blood-like
substance on the walls, the ceiling, an outlet cover and an
electronic control device. The police also discovered blood-like
splatters on the box spring that had been recovered from the alley
and on the glamour shot portrait, which the police had recovered
from a frame store which, at Rudin's request, was placing new
glass on the portrait.
While the police were searching Rudin's
residence, Rudin was observed by police surveillance as she drove
towards her residence and then as she drove away from the area
upon her apparent observation of several police squad cars. The
police followed Rudin as she left the area. Rudin stopped at a
nearby convenience store, where she made several phone calls.
Later, Rudin went to Cantrell's residence. Cantrell claims that
Rudin told her that the police were looking for a trunk, a gun and
a glamour shot portrait. After visiting with Cantrell, Rudin
drove to Sharon's residence where she remained for nearly two
hours. The police then observed Rudin and Sharon leave the house
and followed them to Stateline. When Rudin and Sharon reached
the California border, police officers contacted the Los Angeles
Police Department, which surveilled Rudin until the next morning
when she boarded a flight to St. Louis, Missouri. Rudin did not
return to Nevada until law enforcement officers in Massachusetts
apprehended her and she was extradited to Nevada in 1999.
On July 21, 1996, a scuba diver discovered a
.22 caliber Ruger handgun while diving near Pyramid Island at Lake
Mead. The gun was wrapped in several plastic bags that were
secured with rubber bands and so was well preserved. The handgun
had a sound suppressor attached to it. Police subsequently
learned that the gun had been registered to Ron in 1980.
According to records obtained from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms, Ron had reported the items missing in October 1988.
In particular, Ron sent a letter to the Bureau, stating that he
suspected that his wife had packed his gun in her belongings in
anticipation of her move due to a pending divorce. Rudin and Ron
had apparently separated or considered divorce at several points
during their marriage.
On April 17, 1997, Rudin was indicted by a
Clark County grand jury for the crimes of unauthorized
surreptitious intrusion of privacy by listening device, murder
with use of deadly weapon and accessory to murder. A warrant was
issued for Rudin's arrest. Law enforcement officers in
Massachusetts eventually apprehended Rudin in November 1999.
After officers asked Rudin whether she knew why she was being
arrested, she responded, “Yes. This is about Las Vegas, isn't it?”
On March 31, 2000, Rudin was arraigned in the
Eighth Judicial District Court and pleaded not guilty to all
counts. Rudin was initially represented by the Clark County
Public Defender's Office. She eventually retained the services
of a private attorney, Michael Amador, who claimed to be
representing Rudin on a pro bono basis. On February 20, 2001,
the district court, in order to avoid further delays, appointed
attorney Thomas F. Pitaro to assist Amador.
Trial commenced on March 2, 2001. Following
the State's opening statement, Michael Amador delivered a lengthy
opening statement which included the following remarks:
This is a great day, in a lot of different
ways. Some days are difficult; some days we hear bad news or we
go through a difficult time, but every day, every day, depending
on how you look at it, with a few exceptions, can be a
This is a great today for me. This is a
culmination of a career. The people in this case, we are not
strangers; we know each other. Chris and I were sworn in as
deputy DAs the same day. And I congratulate Chris on a
presentation that was organized and well thought out, the best
money can buy. It was really good.
If you want to know an opinion about me, I
guarantee you'll find some, different ones from different people.
Not many people know me. I have few close friends, like Ronald
Rudin had few close friends.
I could be a wonderful, caring father, coaching
soccer, helping kids with their homework, which I did the first
time I got married when they were young.
Then another day, I might scream at someone,
yell at them for-I don't know-for asking me some question, because
I was too busy and I was thinking of something else.
The difficulty I have at times is communicating
to people. I have to look at it and talk to other people and
they will bring me back down to earth and say: Mike, what are you
trying to say? What are you trying to get across?
I reviewed again this morning my opening
statement and threw most of it away. I don't know, maybe it's
just something I do.
Over the course of Amador's opening statement,
the district court sustained several objections made by the State
and admonished Amador to confine himself to what he believed the
evidence would tend to show and to avoid making arguments. The
general thrust of Amador's opening statement was an appeal to the
jurors to closely scrutinize the State's evidence against Rudin.
After Amador completed his opening statement, the case proceeded.
The State began presenting its case-in-chief.
On March 5, 2001, Rudin notified the district
court, outside the jury's presence, that she was dissatisfied with
her defense counsel. During an in-chambers meeting with the
judge and without the presence of either her attorneys or the
prosecutors, Rudin stated that she believed that Amador was not
prepared to try the case, had not adequately investigated
witnesses and had problems in his personal life that were
impairing his effectiveness. Nonetheless, Rudin indicated that
she did not desire a mistrial because she was satisfied with
Pitaro's legal representation and she did not want to replace
Amador. Instead, she wanted Pitaro to take a more active role on
Immediately following this discussion, the
district court called Pitaro, Amador and the prosecutors into
chambers to further discuss the matter. Amador indicated that he
was having difficulty preparing the case because two of his
employees, his wife and his mother-in-law, had terminated their
employment one month before trial. After further questioning by
the district court, Pitaro agreed to assume a more active role in
the case. Concerned that jeopardy would attach, the State
refused to request a mistrial even though it expressed the need
for a clean record. At this time, the district court, Rudin,
Amador and Pitaro were put on notice that the State was pursuing
an investigation into Rudin's indigent status and Amador's alleged
acceptance of money from media enterprises. Amador denied the
allegations. At the conclusion of the meeting, the district
court indicated that it was willing to give the defense extra time
during the trial to prepare its case. Rudin indicated that she
was satisfied that all of her concerns had been addressed. The
State continued to present its case-in-chief.
On March 8, 2001, the district court conducted
a hearing to determine if Rudin and her counsel needed additional
time to prepare. The district court was informed that the defense
was prepared and did not, as yet, need any additional time.
However, on March 15, 2001, during another
in-chambers conference and after direct examination and some
cross-examination of Cantrell, Rudin, through counsel, moved for a
mistrial. Again, Rudin claimed that Amador was not adequately
prepared, that he had failed to adequately cross-examine Cantrell
and that Pitaro had joined the case too late to remedy the
problem. In denying Rudin's motion for a mistrial, the district
court accepted Amador's arguments that he had used his best
efforts. The district court stated that while Amador's opening
statement was ineffective, it was not evidence, and that Rudin had
the benefit of being represented by both Pitaro and Amador. The
district court also noted that Amador had just begun to
cross-examine Cantrell when the court recessed over an evidentiary
objection and that there was no indication Amador was not prepared
to cross-examine Cantrell or that Amador would not be prepared to
cross-examine future witnesses adequately. The district court
indicated it would not grant a mistrial based solely on Rudin's
speculations and reiterated that it would authorize additional
investigative fees or continuances if counsel needed additional
time. The district court denied Rudin's motion for a mistrial,
concluding that there was not enough evidence of prejudice to
support a finding that a mistrial was manifestly necessary.
Nonetheless, on March 29, 2001, the district court appointed John
Momot as an additional attorney for Rudin.
Once again, the State continued to present its
case-in-chief. Although the State called over sixty witnesses,
its case against Rudin rested primarily upon: (1) Cantrell's
testimony concerning Rudin's admissions and conduct before and
after Ron's disappearance, (2) Lovato's testimony concerning what
he observed while working in Rudin's home, (3) ballistic evidence
indicating that Ron had been shot with his own .22 caliber Ruger
handgun, and (4) forensic evidence suggesting that Ron had been
shot inside the master bedroom.
The defense began its case-in-chief on April
16, 2001, after being granted a five-day recess subsequent to the
State's completion of its case-in-chief. The defense rested
after four days of testimony. The defense elicited testimony
from over twenty witnesses; however, the focal points of its case
were: (1) an expert's testimony that forensic evidence did not
support the conclusion that Ron was murdered in the master
bedroom, and (2) that several other people had a motive and
opportunity to kill Ron.
On April 23, 2001, after the defense had rested
its case, Donald Shaupeter contacted the defense. Shaupeter
allegedly consigned a steamer trunk to Honabach, which Honabach
then sold to Rudin. Contrary to Honabach's testimony, Shaupeter
claimed that he consigned a small case to Honabach, but not a
steamer trunk. Since Shaupeter claimed that he had previously
supplied the State's investigator with this information, Rudin
filed a motion to dismiss the charges on the theory that the State
had withheld exculpatory evidence from Rudin. According to the
State's investigator, Shaupeter did not deny that he consigned a
trunk to Honabach; rather, the investigator recalled that
Shaupeter had very little recollection of any of the individual
items that had been consigned to Honabach.
The district court concluded that the State had
improperly withheld Shaupeter's statements from the defense and
that it was not for the State to decide whether Shaupeter's
testimony was exculpatory or inculpatory. Nonetheless, the
district court concluded that the error was not of sufficient
magnitude to justify a mistrial. As a remedy, the district court
allowed the defense to reopen its case-in-chief to elicit
testimony from Shaupeter. The district court also permitted
Rudin's counsel to tell the jury that the State had improperly
withheld Shaupeter's statements.
On April 25, 2001, the parties delivered their
closing arguments. During a recess, the district court asked
Juror Number Eleven to remain behind so that it could address,
outside the presence of the jury as a whole, a concern over a
reported argument between Juror Eleven and a staff person at the
Golden Nugget over a smoking break. Juror Eleven stated that she
wanted to remain on the jury and that she did not believe there
would be a problem with smoking breaks in the future. Both the
defense and the State were present during this colloquy; neither
wished to make any comments for the record. Subsequently, the
parties concluded their closing arguments. The jury commenced
On Monday, April 30, 2001, the district court
met with the defense and the State in chambers to address another
issue that had arisen over the weekend concerning Juror Eleven.
The district judge informed the parties that he had been contacted
by Alternate Juror Number Three, who stated that Juror Eleven had
contacted her. According to Alternate Three, Juror Eleven had
called Alternate Three and had told her that she was upset because
she was the only person in favor of a not guilty verdict and
because she had gotten into an altercation with the staff person
at the Golden Nugget. The defense moved for a mistrial, arguing
that the improper communication between the juror and the
alternate had tainted the jury. After questioning Alternate
Three and Juror Eleven in the presence of the State and the
defense, the district court denied Rudin's motion for a mistrial.
The district court also decided not to discharge Juror Eleven,
concluding that the jury had not been tainted and that Rudin had
not been prejudiced by the communication.
On May 1, 2001, the district court and the
parties met in chambers again to discuss a third issue that had
arisen regarding Juror Eleven. The State indicated that it had
obtained information which suggested that Juror Eleven had been
untruthful during jury selection about whether she had any close
friends in law enforcement and about whether she had ever been the
victim of a crime. Accordingly, the State moved that she be
discharged from the jury. After meeting with Juror Eleven in
chambers and without the parties being present, the district court
chose not to remove Juror Eleven.
On May 2, 2001, after thirty-eight days of
trial, the jury returned a verdict against Rudin of guilty on
Counts I and II. Following the verdict, the jury foreman held a
one-person press conference during which he declared:
In his opening remarks on March 2, [defense
attorney] Michael Amador said, “This is a great day.” I submit
to you that today, May 2, is a great day. Ronald Rudin, his
family and the people of the great state of Nevada can [take]
comfort in the fact that justice was served today.
On May 8, 2001, Rudin filed a motion for a new
trial based on several asserted errors. During a hearing the
next day, Rudin, through Pitaro and Momot, moved to terminate
Amador's services as her defense attorney, alleging that Amador
had engaged in misconduct, including: (1) abusing drugs, (2)
retaining her personal possessions without her permission, (3)
mishandling her defense, (4) secretly securing media rights to her
case while representing to the district court that he was working
on a pro bono basis, and (5) secretly releasing private
information to tabloid media publications against her wishes.
After the hearing, the district court granted Rudin's motion to
relieve Amador from further representing Rudin in her case.
After a subsequent hearing on August 24, 2001, the district court
denied Rudin's motion for a new trial, finding that Rudin had
failed to present any specific evidence or argument to support a
determination that she had been prejudiced.
A judgment of conviction was entered against
Rudin on September 17, 2001, on Count I, unauthorized
surreptitious intrusion of privacy by listening device, and Count
II, murder with use of a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to one
year in prison for Count I, and life in prison with the
possibility of parole after ten years for Count II, plus an equal
and consecutive sentence for the deadly weapon enhancement. The
court ordered the sentences for Court II to run concurrently with
Count I. Rudin timely filed her notice of this appeal.
Rudin contends that the district court abused
its discretion by admitting the testimony of the State's blood
splatter expert, Michael Perkins. Rudin argues that Perkins was
not qualified to be an expert witness and that his testimony was
unreliable. This court has held that a district court has
discretion to qualify a particular witness as an expert and to
permit that witness to give opinion evidence.3
Here, the record reflects that Perkins had extensive training and
experience with regard to blood splatter interpretation, and
accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in
allowing Perkins to testify as an expert on this subject.4
Expert testimony is only admissible if the
individual's “specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact
to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” 5
Examining the nature of blood splatter evidence at a crime scene
often requires expert testimony.6
Certainly, opinions concerning trajectory based upon the
appearance and placement of blood splatters is beyond the
experience of lay jurors. As such, the opinions of an expert
would be helpful to the jurors.7
Perkins's testimony concerned the probable trajectories of the
blood droplets found in Rudin's former master bedroom.
Rudin also attacks Perkins's use of a demo
version of a blood splatter software program. NRS 50.285(2)
provides that an expert may base an opinion on facts or data that
are “of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in forming
opinions or inferences upon the subject.” Perkins testified that
the program is widely used by blood splatter experts. We
therefore perceive no error on the part of the district court in
allowing the testimony. Moreover, Rudin's counsel, Thomas
Pitaro, cross-examined Perkins extensively on the use of a demo
program rather than the original program and on the failure of
Perkins's laboratory to test the program. The jury therefore was
presented with reasons to either accept or reject Perkins's
opinions which were formed by reference to the demo version of the
blood splatter software program.
Rudin contends that it was unreasonable for
Perkins to consult with other experts or retrieve information from
the Internet. Rudin offers no basis for this claim. While
Perkins may have consulted literature available through the
Internet and with other experts, Perkins also relied on his
observations from other crime scenes, and conducted experiments as
to several causes of the blood splatter pattern before reaching a
conclusion. All such consultations on Perkins's part are
permitted pursuant to NRS 50.285(1). Accordingly, Rudin's
argument is without merit. We conclude that the district court
acted within its discretion when it admitted Perkins's expert
Second, Rudin contends that she was deprived of
her right to a fair trial as a result of prosecutorial misconduct.
In determining whether prosecutorial misconduct has deprived a
defendant of a fair trial, we inquire as to “whether the
prosecutor's statements so infected the proceedings with
unfairness as to make the results a denial of due process.” 8
Furthermore, a defendant is entitled to a fair trial, not a
perfect one and, accordingly, “ ‘[a] criminal conviction is not to
be lightly overturned on the basis of a prosecutor's comments
standing alone, for the statements or conduct must be viewed in
context.” ’ 9
Finally, we will determine whether any prosecutorial misconduct
that did occur was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.10
Rudin argues that the State engaged in
misconduct by: (1) granting immunity to Yehuda Sharon; (2)
making improper comments before and during her trial; (3) sharing
information with the trustees of Ron's estate; and (4)
withholding, prior to trial, the statements that Donald Shaupeter
made to the police.
First, while Rudin charges that the State
improperly coerced Sharon's testimony, there is no evidence of
coercion in the record. Rudin also contends that the State
engaged in misconduct when it granted Sharon immunity. “The
granting of immunity is traditionally a function of the
prosecution ․” 11
Upon the State's motion, NRS 178.572 empowers the district court
with discretion to grant a witness immunity.12
Although in some circumstances, a prosecutor's failure to grant
use immunity to a defendant's witness may constitute prosecutorial
Rudin has failed to explain how the State's grant of immunity to
Sharon unfairly prejudiced her defense. More to the point, we
find no prejudice to Rudin flowing from the State's grant of
immunity to Sharon given that he denied any personal wrongdoing
and he also refused to implicate Rudin in Ron's death.
Finally, Rudin argues that the State took
inconsistent positions when, during the grand jury proceedings,
Assistant District Attorney Charles Thompson stated that the State
knew that Sharon did not kill Ron but then, at trial, proceeded to
prosecute Rudin on a theory that Sharon aided and abetted Rudin in
killing Ron. The district attorney's statement during grand jury
proceedings and the State's theory at trial that Sharon aided and
abetted Rudin in killing Ron are not entirely inconsistent. The
State informed the jury that Sharon had been granted immunity and
that the State believed that Sharon was Rudin's accomplice.
Rudin also argues that, during trial, the district court erred
when it characterized the district attorney's prior statement
concerning Sharon as hearsay and, therefore, inadmissible. The
statement of an attorney is not evidence,14
nor is it admissible against the government as a party admission.15
Rudin provides no support for her contention that the district
court should have admitted the attorney's statement as evidence.
Accordingly, Rudin's argument on this matter is without merit.
Second, as to the State's allegedly improper
comments, we conclude that the comments did not impair Rudin's
right to a fair trial. Rudin challenges the State's quotation of
a passage from her diary during the State's opening statement.
The passage was written shortly after Rudin married Ron and read
My life has always been unique, exciting, full
of change, challenges and stimulus and full of interesting casts
of characters and that is okay.
It just is, and I accept that for my past, but
I know that, by programming my mind, I can now redirect any future
stage plays and pick my own screen play and cast, because I am the
producer, director and star of any and all new plays on my stage
I've always vaguely known these facts and lived
my life accordingly, but I never realized what control-I never
realized what control I could have over every segment of this one
time stage production called “Margaret's Life.”
This passage was consistent with the State's
theory that Rudin was controlling and manipulative. There is
nothing in the quotation that is patently, unfairly prejudicial by
itself. Similarly, Rudin's assertion that the State engaged in
misconduct when it referenced the perjury statute while
questioning Rudin's nephew during the investigative grand jury
proceedings is also without merit. The State is not prohibited
from reminding a witness of the consequences of perjury during a
witness's testimony, especially when a witness denies making
certain admissions attributed to him by the police. Such was the
case here. Furthermore, because the State's comments were made
during the grand jury proceedings and not before the jury at
Rudin's trial, the comments did not undermine Rudin's right to a
Third, Rudin contends that the State committed
prosecutorial misconduct when it released the investigative files
of Ron's murder to the trustees of Ron's estate. Rudin provides
no support for her contention. NRS 179A.120(1) permits the
release of information to a crime victim's relatives where that
information may assist the victim in obtaining redress in a civil
action for the victim's injury or loss. In the instant case, at
the request of Ron's cousin, Brenda Woods, the State revealed to
Ron's trustees only the names, addresses and investigative files
obtained through police investigation. Because the State
released only limited information to Ron's relatives that was
obtained through police investigation of Ron's disappearance and
not through evidence presented at the grand jury proceedings, the
State did not engage in misconduct and Rudin's right to a fair
trial was not jeopardized. Moreover, while Rudin implies the
existence of a conspiracy between the State and the trustees of
Ron's estate, she makes no specific factual allegations or
arguments in support of this naked claim. Accordingly, Rudin's
arguments on this matter are without merit.16
Finally, while the State acted improperly in
failing to disclose to Rudin's counsel the statements of Donald
we note that this matter was appropriately addressed by the
district court and that Rudin was permitted to remedy the State's
improper act by reopening her case and presenting Shaupeter's
testimony to the jury. Moreover, the district court permitted
Rudin to let the jury know that the State had failed to provide
this evidence to the defense. Since Shaupeter's testimony and
the State's misconduct were presented to the jury, we conclude
that any error that occurred as a result of the State's Brady
violation was harmless.18
Next, Rudin contends that she was deprived of
her right to a fair trial as a result of the district court's
alleged judicial misconduct. In Oade v. State, we noted that the
words and actions of the trial judge are likely to shape the
opinion of the jury members to the extent that one party may be
While the district court must protect the defendant's right to a
fair trial, “[a] trial judge is charged with providing order and
decorum in trial proceedings,” 20
and must also concern itself with the flow of trial and protecting
Rudin asserts that her right to a fair trial
was undermined by repeated instances of judicial misconduct,
including: (1) judicial comments made before and during her trial
that belittled her attorney, Michael Amador; (2) ex parte
conversations; and (3) improper conduct in connection with the
hearing on her motion for a new trial. First, we conclude that
the majority of the district court's admonishments of Amador did
not amount to misconduct because they were made in the appropriate
interests of controlling the flow of the proceedings, saving time
and avoiding confusion.22
Moreover, the record reflects that Amador repeatedly attempted,
inappropriately so, to argue the facts of the case both during
jury selection and his opening statement. Consequently, the
district court was placed by Amador in the position of balancing
the need to admonish Amador with the need to protect Rudin's right
to a fair trial. Despite this difficulty, none of the district
court's comments reflect any animus towards Amador; rather, the
comments reveal the district court's concern for the orderly
process of the trial. The district court, time and again,
admonished Amador to refrain from unnecessary deviations from the
path of the proceedings and encouraged Amador to return to and
remain on point. As to the remaining remarks, while the district
court made inappropriate references to past trial experiences that
may have suggested the district court's opinion concerning the
case, the district court also gave a standard instruction
cautioning the jury not to take any comments by the court as an
expression of opinion. Given the instruction, the infrequent
nature of these comments and the evidence, we conclude that any
improper remarks by the district court did not prejudice Rudin's
right to a fair trial.
Second, we conclude that the district court's
alleged improper ex parte conversations were not improper. While
the district court did have ex parte conversations with Rudin and
with a juror, Canon 3 of Nevada's Code of Judicial Conduct
specifically permits ex parte contacts when a “judge reasonably
believes that no party will gain a procedural or tactical
advantage as a result of the ex parte communication,” and the
judge promptly notifies the “parties of the substance of the ex
parte communication and allows an opportunity to respond.” 23
Here, the district court's meeting with Rudin was initiated by
the defense, placed on the record and followed by lengthy
discussions with counsel for both parties. Nothing in the record
suggests that either side was likely to gain an advantage as a
result of Rudin's meeting with the district court. Similarly,
the district court recorded its discussion with Juror Eleven and
immediately disclosed the substance of the conversation to counsel
for both parties, who offered no objections and no further comment
on the matter. Moreover, there is no indication that Rudin was
prejudiced by the district court's conversation with the juror
because the district court decided not to discharge the juror who,
we observe, apparently was the only juror favoring a not guilty
verdict at that time.
Third, the district court did not act
improperly in connection with Rudin's motion for a new trial.
Rudin argues that the district court abused its discretion by
limiting argument on her motion for a new trial, but a district
court exercises discretion when considering a motion for new
Here, the district court properly exercised its discretion by
considering the parties' briefs and requesting additional oral
argument on the issues that the district court believed had
arguable merit. Contrary to Rudin's assertions, no facts exist
in the record to suggest that the district court's decision was
colored by bias or a lack of impartiality. Since it is Rudin's
burden to set forth such facts,25
her naked allegations are without merit.26
Similarly, apart from Rudin's naked allegation that the district
court was attempting to undermine her defense, nothing is pointed
to in the record to suggest that the district court acted
improperly when it persuaded her former trial attorney to
represent her at her sentencing on a pro bono basis.
Accordingly, Rudin's bare allegations on this matter are also
March 15th motion for mistrial
Rudin contends that the district court erred in
applying the manifest necessity standard to her March 15, 2001,
motion for mistrial based on Amador's alleged lack of preparation.
We agree, but we conclude that the district court nonetheless
reached the correct result in denying Rudin's motion.
The trial court has discretion to determine
whether a mistrial is warranted, and its judgment will not be
overturned absent an abuse of discretion.27
Where the State moves for a mistrial or the court declares a
mistrial on its own motion, double jeopardy bars retrial unless
the “declaration of the mistrial was dictated by manifest
necessity or the ends of justice.” 28
Even in the presence of manifest necessity, where a “prosecutor
is responsible for the circumstances which necessitated
declaration of a mistrial,” double jeopardy will prevent retrial
of the defendant.29
A defendant's request for a mistrial, however, constitutes a
clear and deliberate election to forgo one's valued right to a
trial by the first jury.30
Thus, the manifest necessity standard generally does not apply to
a defense motion for a mistrial.31
We therefore conclude that the district court erred to the extent
that it used the manifest necessity standard to review Rudin's
While the district court erroneously invoked
the manifest necessity standard, we conclude the district court
did not err in denying the motion.
Rudin claimed Amador was inadequately prepared
to handle his portion of the defense and that Amador had not
properly investigated the case. Rudin expressed no
dissatisfaction with attorney Pitaro but was concerned that
neither Pitaro nor Amador would be able to properly represent her
as preparation for future witnesses and investigations were
ongoing while the trial continued. Solely for the purposes of
addressing the motion for a mistrial, the district court made a
preliminary inquiry on Amador's preparedness using as a general
standard the test for ineffective assistance of counsel under the
Strickland v. Washington “reasonably effective assistance” test.32
The district court concluded that, based on the Strickland
standard, Rudin had not been prejudiced by Amador's alleged lack
A defendant's request for a mistrial may be
granted for any number of reasons where some prejudice occurs that
prevents the defendant from receiving a fair trial.34
In the case of allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel,
counsel's ineffective performance must be “ ‘so prejudicial as to
be unsusceptible to neutralizing by an admonition to the jury.’ ” 35
Therefore, Rudin must demonstrate that Amador's actions
prejudiced her defense and that the district court failed to
neutralize Amador's performance to ensure a fair trial.
The record does reflect that Amador had
difficulty preparing for Rudin's trial and that the district court
responded to this problem by alternatively admonishing counsel and
accommodating the defense in order to promote fairness in the
proceedings. The district court responded to both Amador's
failings and the State's failings in a remedial fashion, granting
all requests short of declaring a mistrial. For instances, the
district court granted the defense extra time during the trial to
prepare its case, Pitaro was given the leading role in trying the
case, John Momot was appointed as Rudin's third defense attorney,
and the defense was permitted to tell the jury about the State's
Similarly, while Rudin alleges that Amador
should have retained all experts prior to trial, the record
reflects Rudin was not prejudiced as a result of Amador's failure
because the defense presented several expert witnesses during its
case-in-chief. A defendant is not entitled to a perfect trial,
only a fair trial.36
We conclude the district court did not err in finding that
Rudin's right to a fair trial was not prejudiced and denying
Rudin's motion for a mistrial.
Motion for new trial
Rudin sought a new trial primarily on grounds
relating to Amador's alleged misconduct or lack of preparation.37
Rudin contended that Amador improperly attempted to secure media
rights to Rudin's story and his actions deprived her of a fair
trial. After conclusion of the trial, the State discovered,
initially through Amador's secretary, Annie Jackson, that Amador,
during the course of representing Rudin, had negotiated contracts
with media enterprises concerning his involvement in the case and
his representation of Rudin. At an in-chambers hearing after
Amador had been removed as co-counsel, Jackson testified that she
discovered three contracts pertaining to literary and media
rights, one with a production company for movie rights signed by
Amador's partners and Rudin, a book deal signed by Rudin, and a
media release giving Amador control over Rudin's media rights.
Jackson also testified that Amador had been writing a book during
the course of trial, that he had leaked information on Rudin and
had given pictures of Rudin's family to the National Enquirer, and
that Amador was affiliated with a website that had covered Rudin's
SCR 158(4) provides that during the course of
representation, a lawyer may not negotiate agreements pertaining
to literary or media rights based on representation of a client.
A presumption of prejudice arises when an actual conflict of
interest adversely affects counsel's performance.38
The district court did not make a specific finding regarding the
truth of Jackson's allegations. Had the district court accepted
the allegations as true, and if Amador's conduct created a
conflict with his client, the record is insufficient to
demonstrate that Amador's alleged conflict adversely affected his
Based on the evidence presented by the defense
and the cross-examination of witnesses, the performance of
attorneys Pitaro and Momot and the strength of the State's case,
the district court concluded that Amador's conduct did not
prejudice Rudin's right to a fair trial. We agree. Amador's
mistakes were adequately addressed and remedied by the district
court, which also appointed additional attorneys to represent
Rudin. While we do not approve of Amador's alleged acts
concerning Rudin's literary and media rights, the record is
insufficient to permit the conclusion that Amador's performance
during trial was adversely affected by this alleged conflict of
interest or that his performance prejudiced Rudin's right to a
fair trial. Accordingly, we conclude that Rudin's argument is
without merit and the district court did not err in denying the
motion for a new trial.
We note that the dissent concludes, based upon
Amador's apparent conflict of interest, that we are obligated to
reverse and order a new trial. While we certainly share our
colleagues' concern for Amador's unprofessionalism, we reiterate
our observation that Rudin's claim concerning Amador's conflicts
remains just that-a claim. The existing rule, and the better
rule, requires that this issue, along with the general issue
concerning Amador's ineffectiveness must be examined in a separate
post-conviction proceeding at which time Rudin's post-conviction
attorney will examine the entire record, interview all relevant
witnesses and present the matter to the district court for a full
and complete airing and decision.
Based on the above, we conclude that Rudin's
arguments are without merit and that she was not prejudiced in her
right to a fair trial. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of
I agree with the majority opinion, except I
believe that a mistrial should have been granted when it was
obvious that the defense was not prepared to try the case. I
also believe that defense attorney Amador had a clear conflict of
interest with his client and this too requires reversal and a new
Amador's lack of preparation and motion for
Concerns had been voiced about Amador's
preparation to try this major case prior to trial, but no one had
anticipated what they would hear and see at the beginning of the
trial. Amador's voir dire was rambling, and he attempted to
argue the facts of his case. The district court judge repeatedly
admonished him to stop trying to argue his case during voir dire
and warned Amador that he was going “to keep a close eye” on him.
This was followed by an equally prejudicial opening statement by
Amador began his opening statement by
declaring: “This is a great day․ [E]very day ․ can be a
celebration․ This is a great day for me. This is a culmination
of a career.” He then declared that he had thrown away most of
his prepared remarks and launched into a disjointed argument that
was interrupted numerous times by objections from the State, which
the district court sustained. Finally, after yet another
sustained objection, the district court judge stated to Amador:
Again, I keep saying this-and I let you get
away with a lot, Mr. Amador-but the purpose for an opening
statement is just to indicate what the evidence is going to tend
to show and not go into your personal beliefs and your passion and
soccer dad and yelling at the staff and whether you were a green
lawyer and know all the cops and used to be a D.A. and you
communicate differently. I never heard that in [an] opening
statement in my life.
Amador also stated in his opening statement:
“During the course of the trial, there may be objections and
things like that. Don't worry about it.” The district court
judge interrupted: “I don't know what that means: Don't worry
about objections. We have to do other things. I have no idea
what that means. If there's an objection, I'm either going to
overrule it or sustain it and that's the law.”
The opening statement of a criminal case is
extremely important in asserting a successful defense.1
In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that the impression a
juror has after opening statements usually carries with him or her
to become the verdict in the case.2
For that reason, by the end of opening statements, Rudin was
already at a great disadvantage even though no evidence had been
Following opening statements, the State called
as its first witnesses the two fishermen who found Ron Rudin's
remains at Lake Mohave, and then Rudin asked to see the district
court judge personally about her defense. The extraordinary
in-chambers meeting occurred on Monday morning, March 5, 2001, and
was attended by the district court judge, his law clerk, the court
reporter, and Rudin. Rudin stated that several friends were
appalled with Amador's opening statement, and she felt that
because of personal problems, Amador was not prepared to try her
case. The district court judge indicated that he would not
comment on Amador's opening statement but did admit that he did
not interrupt Amador as often as he probably should have because
he was concerned about it reflecting adversely on her. Sadly, it
already had. She indicated that she did not want a mistrial, but
wished that Pitaro would take a more active role in the case.
Pitaro had been appointed shortly before trial to assist Amador
with expert witness testimony so that a continuance would not be
necessary. The district court judge indicated that he recently
gave her attorneys permission to retain experts, and Rudin asked
about her lay witnesses for trial. Rudin commented, “We haven't
even subpoenaed my witnesses yet. And I'm getting so nervous. I
mean, I'm getting panicky.” The district court judge indicated
that reasonable funds would be provided to subpoena her witnesses,
and her attorneys then joined the conference.
Amador confirmed that he had substantial
personal problems culminating when his wife and mother-in-law, who
were his secretary and legal assistant, walked out of his office
one month prior to trial and never came back. The district court
judge then admonished Amador that the case was not about him,
although that was all he had heard about in the pretrial motions
and the opening statement. He also indicated that he had not
been in favor of Amador doing this case pro bono, and that the
case must be about giving Rudin a fair trial. Pitaro indicated
that he was willing to assume a greater role in the trial, but
warned the district court judge that he and the investigators had
not had a chance to review voluminous files and financial records.
The prosecutors then joined the conference and
were informed that Rudin wanted Pitaro to assume a more active
role in the case. The district court judge commented that he was
inclined to permit this to avoid a mistrial. The State was
rightfully concerned that it had not been a party to the important
discussion that had just occurred, and then asked if Pitaro could
be ready to take an expanded role in the trial if the trial was
continued a few days. Pitaro indicated that he would do the best
he could since the district court judge had indicated the trial
was going forward, but he did not know if he could be prepared to
conduct a majority of the rest of the trial. He unequivocally
stated that he was not prepared to try the case at that time.
The State was clearly worried about the lack of
preparation by the defense team. “Already we have an appellate
issue now, should they have hired a forensic accountant. And I
mean they came into this thing hiring their experts two weeks
before the trial and they didn't start looking at the evidence
until the day of trial. Two days into it, we still don't have
reports back for most of them.” And a little later, one
prosecutor stated: “Mr. Pitaro is coming in now, he's going to
try to read the stuff and catch up. He already feels there's
certain things that should have happened that didn't happen․ All I
can say is we're really uncomfortable with the record here.” The
district court judge opined that there was an insufficient showing
of manifest necessity to justify a mistrial.
The trial proceeded and the State called Dona
Cantrell, Rudin's sister. Cantrell was extremely important to
the State's case because she had been a confidant of Rudin's and
in close physical proximity to Rudin during the days surrounding
Ron Rudin's disappearance. Cantrell told of the secret
electronic device Rudin had installed in her husband's office,
that she and Rudin had entered Ron Rudin's office after his
disappearance to secure some of his financial and business
documents, and of statements Rudin made indicating that she had
some knowledge of why her husband had disappeared. With only a
circumstantial case facing Rudin, diminishing Cantrell's testimony
was critical to the defense, yet Amador was unprepared to do this
on cross-examination. In fact, Amador only asked Cantrell six
The State continued to present its case and it
became obvious to Pitaro that the lack of preparation made it
impossible to adequately represent Rudin as lead counsel. On
March 15, 2001, Rudin requested a mistrial asserting that Amador
was not prepared to continue with the case, which he admitted, and
that Pitaro had joined the defense team too late to remedy the
situation. Amador admitted his opening statement was inadequate
and that he could barely keep his eyes open after giving his
opening statement. He further admitted that he could have done a
better job interviewing and investigating the State's witnesses,
and consulting with and retaining expert witnesses. Pitaro
agreed that the defense's case was not ready for trial and
concurred that Amador should never have agreed to try the case.
Pitaro declared at the hearing on the motion:
The fundamental problem that we have is this
case is not ready to go to trial. For whatever reason it's not
ready, it's not ready. That's obvious to any observer of this
case, that for the first two weeks this is not the way you try
cases and this is not the way you try murder cases․ And what we
are putting on in front of the world is a farce, and that disturbs
me as an attorney․ [T]his has become a sham, a farce and a
The State again expressed concerns about the
state of the record, and the representation that Rudin had
received. But, it was the State that then led the district court
to make a critical legal error. The district court was led to
believe that in order to avoid any problem with double jeopardy
attaching, Rudin had to show that declaring a mistrial was a
manifest necessity. The defense motion for a mistrial was denied
because the district court found that Rudin had not shown
sufficient prejudice to establish manifest necessity. However, a
showing of manifest necessity is not required when a defendant
moves for a mistrial because double jeopardy does not attach.3
IN SUCH A SITUATIOn as rudin presented, It was within the
district court's discretion to grant a mistrial if a fair trial
could not be had.4
THUS, THE DISTRICT court applied an incorrect legal standard when
it denied Rudin's motion for a mistrial.
Further, the district court prematurely used
the Strickland v. Washington 5
standard to judge the ineffectiveness of Amador; this standard is
inapplicable during trial. Strickland requires that before relief
can be given, it must be shown that an attorney was deficient, and
that the result of the trial would probably have been different
but for counsel's deficient performance.6
At this early stage of the trial, there was abundant evidence
that Amador's performance was substandard, but there was no result
to assess. Therefore, the application of the Strickland standard
to this situation was another legal error made by the district
court, which the majority opinion seems to repeat. The district
court was simply called upon to determine, in its discretion,
whether Rudin had been prejudiced by Amador's performance and lack
of preparation to a point where a fair trial could not be had.
If this case had been a professional
prizefight, they would have stopped the contest. Yet, the
district court continued with the case and required an unprepared
defense to soldier on, investigating as the case was being
presented. As investigator Tom Dillard, a former detective for
the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, stated: “I can say
without hesitation that we ․ literally prepared the defense for
the case hour by hour and day by day.” When the defense
complained that it was impossible to do the investigation while
the case was in progress, the district court appointed yet another
attorney to the defense team.
Reaching the conclusion that Amador was totally
unprepared to try this case did not require any advanced legal
training-it was obvious to all. Columnist John L. Smith stated
it this way:
It was agonizing to watch.
Anyone who has felt compassion for an animal
caught in a steel trap can empathize with the painful predicament
defense attorney Michael Amador found himself in Thursday
afternoon in District Judge Joseph Bonaventure's courtroom.
Metaphorically speaking, Amador was attempting
to chew off his paw to escape the trap that is the Margaret Rudin
murder trial. It's a trap he had set for himself. Rudin is
accused of the December 1994 murder of her husband, real estate
developer Ron Rudin.
Amador tried in the most tactful language he
could muster to admit to the court that he was hopelessly in over
his head and needed Bonaventure to grant a mistrial. Courtroom
observers had seen that day coming for weeks.
Amador, once a top local prosecutor and more
recently a successful defense lawyer, appeared overwhelmed by this
case, which he accepted without the usual fee arrangement. Some
of his motions to the court were riddled with typographical errors
and confusing digressions. Some of his rhetoric wandered so far
off point that earlier last week Bonaventure finally lost his
patience. When Amador wasn't frustrating the judge, he was
falsely accusing a prosecutor of lying.
In an effort to protect Rudin's rights to a
fair trial, a few weeks ago Bonaventure persuaded respected
criminal attorney Tom Pitaro to join Amador on the defense.
Private investigators Michael Wysocki and Tom Dillard were hired,
but it was way too late.
During trial, the attorneys had met with
Bonaventure more than once to discuss Amador's preparedness and
presentation. By Wednesday, Rudin had finally heard enough and
wanted to make a change.
It was, after all, her name on the criminal
Bonaventure didn't allow Amador to exit
“Do you know how much money was expended in
this case, the thousands upon thousands of dollars?” Bonaventure
asked. “Now, all of a sudden, we have three weeks-or nine days of
testimony, your client says: ‘I want a mistrial.’ And you say:
‘I've been doing good thus far, but I want a mistrial. I'm not
prepared.” ’ 7
No defense of an open charge of murder should
be required to investigate, prepare for, and try the case all at
the same time. Basic considerations of fair play and due process
require that every defendant charged with a serious crime be
provided a competent attorney who is given sufficient time to
prepare the defense.8
When it became obvious that the defense was not ready for trial
and Rudin could not receive a fair trial, the district court judge
should have heeded the concerns of both the State and defense
counsel and granted a mistrial. The application of the wrong
legal standards prevented the district court judge from doing so,
and perhaps the concerns over wasted effort and the termination of
the nationally broadcasted Court TV program were also factors.
But, with this said, I do recognize and appreciate the impossible
situation in which the district judge was placed due to Amador's
conduct. The district court judge did all he could to attempt to
salvage the trial and still provide an adequate defense for Rudin.
Unfortunately, the harm had already been done and this trial was
The jury deliberated seven days before
returning a verdict of first-degree murder. Shortly after the
verdict, a juror held an impromptu press conference on the
courthouse steps and repeated the words Amador used in his opening
statement: “In his opening remarks ․ Amador said, ‘This is a
great day.’ I submit to you that today ․ is a great day.
Ronald Rudin, his family and the people of the great state of
Nevada can [take] comfort in the fact that justice was served
today.” There can be no doubt that Amador's opening statement
prejudiced the defense, and it remained with the jury until the
end of the trial.
Motion for new trial and Amador's conflict
Following Rudin's trial, the defense team filed
a motion for a new trial and a fuller picture of Amador's failure
to prepare this case emerged. Amador had sought the appointment
to defend Rudin without pay, pro bono, believing it would be the
big case he needed to boost his legal career. He told numerous
people that this was his big break, and he even repeated this in
his opening statement. He agreed to defend Rudin in the criminal
proceeding, and at the same time, filed a lawsuit on behalf of
Rudin to cancel an agreement Rudin allegedly made with an
individual to write a book about the murder case. When the
district attorney's office heard rumors that Rudin and Amador
might be receiving media income from the case and that Rudin was
not truly indigent, it brought this information to the district
court's attention. At the informal hearing in chambers on March
5, 2001, Amador and Rudin assured the district court that there
was no such income being received. The district court judge
seemed less concerned about the potential conflict of interest
that might be present if Amador was involved in a book deal, and
more concerned with whether anyone was receiving money from a book
deal. Indeed, the district court judge instructed Amador to
inform him if Rudin received any money from a book deal.
Amador apparently did little work on the case
during the months after his appointment, except to create a
website to broadcast the daily events of the upcoming trial, and
then in November 2000, he left for a one-month European vacation.
A new office assistant named Annie Jackson arrived about that
time, and when Amador returned, he instructed Jackson to put the
volumes of materials the office had received about the Rudin case
in binders. It was her firm belief that Amador had not reviewed
these voluminous files, and Pitaro expressed the same feeling
about the materials during trial. Additionally, review of the
records by Pitaro and the investigators became more difficult when
Amador took many of the volumes of material with him when he
checked into the 4 Queens Hotel at the beginning of trial.
Besides performing little or no review of the voluminous
documents, when Rudin was transported to Amador's office for the
purpose of preparing her defense, no preparation occurred.
According to Jackson:
The first time Margaret was transported to the
office, Mr. Amador ordered a bunch of food. Tom Pitaro came over
and a writer from New York by the name of John Connelly was also
there. It was just a social gathering. No work whatsoever with
respect to the defense of the case was performed.
I later learned John Connelly writes for the
National Enquirer, and had done an article on Margaret Rudin back
in December. This article had been done through Michael Amador's
connection with Mr. Connelly. I also learned that Michael Amador
had some sort of an affiliation with WeaselSearch.com, which is
the website that covered the entire trial.
The second week that Margaret Rudin was
transported to our offices, 48 Hours was there and all their
cameras were rolling. Nothing was accomplished with respect to
preparing for the trial. 48 Hours was interviewing Margaret
Rudin the entire time.
Ms. Rudin expressed her displeasure on the
second occasion, as she wanted us to start working on her case.
Mr. Amador kept telling Margaret that they would get to her case
the next week.
As I recall, the third week Margaret was
transported to our offices, Mr. Amador had arranged for a
gentleman to come over to dye Margaret's hair, cut it, and do her
make-up. This was, without exaggerating, another insane free for
all. Again, 48 Hours was there and Mr. Amador appeared, at least
to me, more concerned with the media attention than with adequate
preparation of Margaret Rudin's case.
Jackson also elaborated on Amador's personal
problems. She confirmed that his wife and mother-in-law left the
office a month before trial and that Amador then stopped coming to
the office and apparently began cavorting with other women.
Mr. Amador spent most of his evenings at strip
bars, and in the company of strippers. In fact, on many
occasions, he bragged about the many strippers he was dating.
Worse, the strippers were calling and even coming over to the
office during business hours when I was there. I personally
recall one occasion when Mr. Amador even allowed one such stripper
to go through and separate Margaret Rudin's documents.
Jackson indicated that while preparing for
trial, she saw several media rights agreements signed by Rudin,
giving all media rights to Amador. In her testimony, Jackson
stated that the day Amador was fired and returned to the office,
he demanded that Jackson get the media contracts and put them in
the safe. She indicated that she had seen the three book and
media contracts between Rudin and Amador, but that Amador
eventually took them. With regard to Amador denying that he had
media contracts with Rudin, Jackson said that was a lie:
There is no other way to say the following:
when Mr. Amador told the court that he did not have any book or
movie contracts, he was lying. Michael Amador does have book
contracts and movie contracts regarding the Margaret Rudin case.
When we returned to the office after Mr. Amador made those false
representations to the court, he asked me to grab all of the
contracts so that he could put them in his little safe in the back
closet. He told me, “I don't want anyone to find out that I have
these, then I'm sure they'll be investigating and looking for
After hearing Jackson's testimony, the district
court should have been convinced of the need for a new trial.
The evidence certainly indicated that Amador secured media rights
while representing Rudin, which was a violation of the Nevada
Rules of Professional Conduct.9
Amador was clearly more interested in obtaining information for
his book and getting media attention than in developing Rudin's
defense. In fact, Jackson testified that Amador did not turn
over several of Rudin's files, containing diaries, witness
statements, and pictures, to the public defender's office because
he thought he might need the information in the future. Amador's
behavior made it virtually impossible for Rudin to receive a fair
trial, even with the addition of Pitaro to the defense team.
The effort Amador put into this case was
largely driven by his desire for publicity and future media
revenues. Doing this case pro bono put a serious economic strain
on his solo law practice and most of his staff left the month
before trial. Amador's personal life was in shambles, and it
appears as if he was having a major mid-life crisis. All of
these problems became Rudin's problems, as was so painfully shown
This court has held that a defendant is
entitled to legal representation free from any conflict of
interest with his or her attorney.10
The majority correctly notes that Amador had a conflict of
interest in this case, but then arrives at the surprising
conclusion that the record shows that Rudin was adequately
represented. Coupling the inherent prejudice created by being
represented by an attorney with a conflict, along with the patent
failures to prepare for a major murder case, failures which were
very obvious as the trial proceeded, I can come to no other
conclusion but that the prejudice was substantial and ongoing.
The appropriate conclusion should be similar to the one reached in
Clark v. State, cited by the majority with approval, which states
that an attorney's actual and substantial conflict of interest
requires a reversal of the conviction and a new trial.11
The majority opinion indicates that the defense
team was able to provide Rudin with the basics at trial, and that
is true. The defense did make an opening statement,
cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses on Rudin's behalf, and
make a final argument, but there was no way the defense could
overcome the prejudice created by Amador in the early stages of
the trial. The fact that a defendant's attorney is participating
in every aspect of the trial does not necessarily mean that the
representation is adequate.
In fact, it was not until during the trial that
two important facts were discovered by the defense team that
countered two key points asserted by the State early in the trial.
The State presented evidence that a large trunk that Rubin
possessed had been purchased from a specific dealer and was
missing from her antique shop after Ron's disappearance-the
inference being that Ron was carted off by Rudin in the trunk.
The State also made much of the fact that Rudin did not report
Ron's disappearance and took no action to discover his whereabouts
when he disappeared. These two points were driven home by the
State early in the trial, and along with the other inculpating
evidence, provided great momentum for the State's case. Sometime
during the trial, the defense team located the person who sold the
trunk to Rudin and established that it was not a large humpback
trunk, but one that was much too small to fit a corpse inside.
The defense also located Barbara Orcutt, who indicated that Rudin
was indeed concerned about Ron's disappearance and had asked her
right after his disappearance to organize a search in the Mt.
Charleston area, where she believed Ron might have been. The
State apparently had this information, but did not share it with
Toward the end of trial, this newly discovered
evidence was brought to the district court's attention, and the
defense was permitted to present it. Once again, Rudin's defense
was put in a position of finding important evidence after the
trial began and then belatedly presenting it to the jury. It is
unrealistic to think that the jurors could have put out of their
minds all the evidence and adverse events, including the continual
admonishment of defense counsel by the district court judge; the
bizarre opening statement; the constant continuances and delays
throughout the trial, which I am sure were held against the
defense; and the belated presentation of important evidence.
These harmful events resulted from Amador's conflict of interest
and lack of preparation and now require reversal of this case.
I believe there is sufficient evidence in the
record, without the necessity of post-trial proceedings, to
establish that the defense was totally unprepared to try this case
and that Amador had a substantial conflict of interest with his
client. This was prejudicial to Rudin, and the result reached
In closing, I would like to observe that the
practice of a district court judge meeting with a defendant
without her attorneys being present is a dangerous one. The
first meeting the district court judge had with Rudin is a good
example. The district court judge asked Rudin if she wanted a
mistrial, and she said no in large part because she was afraid of
being reassigned to the public defender's office. But this
decision should be made by a client after consultation with a
conflict-free attorney. Rudin also expressed concern that
several favorable witnesses residing in Mexico had not been
subpoenaed, to which the district court judge responded that he
had not been contacted about expenses for lay witnesses, but would
consider a reasonable request for such expenses. Again, a
conversation best conducted with her attorneys present. A judge
should only meet with a defendant without attorneys present in
rare situations where an emergency is presented.12
COMPLIANCE WITH THIs rule should be scrupulously observed.
For the reasons expressed, I would reverse
Rudin's conviction and remand the case for a new trial.
never mentioned Nakashima in her original statement to the police.
Chemical Co. v. Mahlum, 114 Nev. 1468, 1482, 970 P.2d 98, 108
(1998), disagreed with on other grounds by GES, Inc. v. Corbitt,
117 Nev. 265, 271, 21 P.3d 11, 15 (2001); NRS 50.275.
People v. Clark, 5 Cal.4th 950, 22 Cal.Rptr.2d 689, 857 P.2d 1099,
v. State, 113 Nev. 157, 169, 931 P.2d 54, 62 (1997), overruled in
part on other grounds by Byford v. State, 116 Nev. 215, 235, 994
P.2d 700, 713 (2000).
(quoting United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 11, 105 S.Ct. 1038,
84 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985)).
v. State, 104 Nev. 721, 724, 765 P.2d 1153, 1155 (1988).
v. State, 98 Nev. 604, 606, 655 P.2d 536, 537 (1982).
NRS 178.572(1) provides that “the court on motion of the State may
order that any material witness be released from all liability to
be prosecuted or punished on account of any testimony or other
evidence he may be required to produce.”
v. Woodford, 306 F.3d 665, 698 (9th Cir.2002) (stating that, to
demonstrate prosecutorial misconduct, the defendant “must show
that the prosecution intentionally caused a defense witness to
invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, or
that the prosecution granted immunity to a government witness in
order to obtain that witness's testimony, but denied immunity to a
defense witness whose testimony would have directly contradicted
that of the government witness”).
of Alameda v. Moore, 33 Cal.App.4th 1422, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 18, 20
States v. Kampiles, 609 F.2d 1233, 1246 (7th Cir.1979) (holding
that statements by government employees are not admissible against
the government because they are viewed as being outside the
admissions exception to the hearsay rule).
Hargrove v. State, 100 Nev. 498, 502, 686 P.2d 222, 225 (1984)
(holding that mere “ ‘naked’ allegations” will not support a claim
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215
(1963) (holding that the State must disclose evidence favorable to
the defense if the evidence is material either to guilt or to
punishment); Lay v. State, 116 Nev. 1185, 1194, 14 P.3d 1256,
1262 (2000) (holding that a prosecutor is obligated to disclose
evidence that is favorable to the defense as long as the evidence
is material to guilt or punishment).
Jones v. State, 113 Nev. 454, 471, 937 P.2d 55, 65-66 (1997)
(holding that if a Brady violation had occurred, the alleged error
was harmless because the substance of the withheld statements
reached the jury).
Nev. 619, 623, 960 P.2d 336, 339 (1998) (concluding that, viewed
in the entirety, the district court remarks to defense counsel may
have had a prejudicial impact on the verdict); cf. Randolph v.
State, 117 Nev. 970, 985, 36 P.3d 424, 434 (2001) (concluding
that, where the “district court's expressions of annoyance with
defense counsel in front of the jury numbered only two and were
not extreme,” the defendant was not prejudiced).
v. Washoe Medical Ctr., 111 Nev. 365, 367, 892 P.2d 588, 589
Robins v. State, 106 Nev. 611, 624, 798 P.2d 558, 566-67 (1990)
(concluding that the “trial judge was appropriately controlling
the flow of the trial without prejudice to” the defendant when it
admonished counsel); NRS 50.115(1)(c) (providing that a judge
must “exercise reasonable control over the mode and order of
interrogating witnesses ․ [t]o protect witnesses from undue
harassment or embarrassment”).
Leonard v. State, 114 Nev. 1196, 1211, 969 P.2d 288, 298 (1998)
(holding that a defendant was not deprived of his right to a fair
trial when the district court admonished defense counsel to quit
wasting time by individually greeting each juror during jury
selection); Robins, 106 at 624, 798 P.2d at 566-67 (holding that
a district court's admonishment directing defense counsel to quit
confusing a juror and move on was appropriate in the interest of
“controlling the flow of the trial”).
Canon 3B(7)(a)(i) & (ii).
Steese v. State, 114 Nev. 479, 490, 960 P.2d 321, 328 (1998).
Hogan v. Warden, 112 Nev. 553, 560, 916 P.2d 805, 809 (1996)
(noting that judges are presumed to be unbiased and that a party
seeking to establish bias “has the burden of setting forth
sufficient facts that demonstrate bias or the appearance
Hargrove, 100 Nev. at 502, 686 P.2d at 225 (holding that mere
“ ‘naked’ allegations” will not support a claim for relief).
v. State, 114 Nev. 1150, 1155, 968 P.2d 292, 295 (1998), modified
on other grounds by Vanisi v. State, 117 Nev. 330, 341, 22 P.3d
1164, 1172 (2001).
v. District Court, 103 Nev. 418, 422, 743 P.2d 622, 625 (1987).
at 423, 426, 743 P.2d at 625, 627 (concluding that the prosecutor
“did not prevent the circumstances for a mistrial from occurring,
when the prosecutor had adequate notice that a mistrial was likely
to occur and when the prosecutor's office was expressly asked by
the court to be forthcoming on that issue,” therefore committing
“inexcusable” negligence and precluding further prosecution of the
defendant on double jeopardy grounds).
States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 93, 98 S.Ct. 2187, 57 L.Ed.2d 65
(1978); see also Melchor-Gloria v. State, 99 Nev. 174, 178, 660
P.2d 109, 112 (1983) (noting that, when the defense seeks a motion
for a mistrial, an exception to the general rule that the mistrial
removes any double jeopardy bars to reprosecution arises where
“the prosecutor intended to provoke a mistrial or otherwise
engaged in ‘overreaching’ or ‘harassment’ ”).
Wheeler v. District Court, 82 Nev. 225, 229, 415 P.2d 63, 65
(1966) (requiring a finding of manifest necessity before a
mistrial may be declared, unless the defendant consents to the
mistrial); see also Benson v. State, 111 Nev. 692, 695-96, 895
P.2d 1323, 1326 (1995) (stating that, “[t]he issue of consent by a
defendant arises most often when the trial court sua sponte
declares a mistrial or, more rarely, ․ where the prosecution moves
for one,” and that, generally, “ ‘a defendant's motion for, or
consent to, a mistrial removes any double jeopardy bar to
reprosecution” ’ (quoting Melchor-Gloria, 99 Nev. at 178, 660 P.2d
U.S. 668, 687-88, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984) (requiring
that the defendant demonstrate that her counsel's representation
fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that
counsel's performance prejudiced the defense); see Warden v.
Lyons, 100 Nev. 430, 432, 683 P.2d 504, 505 (1984) (adopting the
“reasonably effective assistance” test set forth in Strickland ).
recognize that Strickland identifies a post-conviction standard
for reasonably effective assistance of counsel. We do not intend
for our remarks here to foreclose any potential post-conviction
Randolph, 117 Nev. at 985, 36 P.3d at 434 (concluding that “the
district court's expressions of annoyance with defense counsel in
front of the jury” did not prejudice the defense and were not
grounds for a mistrial); Lisle v. State, 113 Nev. 679, 699-700,
941 P.2d 459, 473 (1997) (concluding that any prejudice to
defendant as a result of the prosecutor eliciting improper
testimony was cured by the trial court when it chastised the
prosecutor and ordered him to cure the improper testimony, and
therefore, a mistrial is not warranted), limited on other grounds
by Middleton v. State, 114 Nev. 1089, 1117 n. 9, 968 P.2d 296, 315
n. 9 (1998).
v. State, 112 Nev. 938, 942, 920 P.2d 993, 995 (1996) (quoting
Allen v. State, 99 Nev. 485, 490, 665 P.2d 238, 241 (1983)).
v. State, 115 Nev. 114, 129, 979 P.2d 703, 712 (1999).
also asserted jury misconduct and judicial misconduct as grounds
for a new trial. We have considered these arguments and find
them to be without merit.
v. State, 108 Nev. 324, 326, 831 P.2d 1374, 1376 (1992).
Harvey J. Lewis, One Trial Lawyer's Perspective, 48 La. B.J. 93,
93 (2000) (noting the importance of opening statements because
studies have shown that, in four out of five cases, jurors at
least tentatively decided a case after hearing opening statements,
and the jurors did not change their minds after hearing the
evidence); Thomas A. Mauet, The New World of Experts in Federal
and State Courts, 25 Am. J. Trial Advoc. 223, 224 (2001) (noting
that jury research shows that opening statements are very
important because at this early stage of a trial jurors are much
more influenced by what lawyers tell them); Barry McNeil & Portia
A. Robert, War Story: An Interview with Judge Barefoot Sanders,
28 Litig. 43, 48 (2002) (observing that the opportunity to give
the jury the right impression of a case comes with the opening
statement); Matthew J. O'Connor & Nicholas B. Schopp, Opening
Statement Restriction Lifted? Are the Scales of Justice Tipping
Back to Even After State v. Thompson?, 58 J. Mo. B. 35, 36 (2002)
(“The profound impact of opening statements in a criminal trial is
without dispute.”); Shari Seidman Diamond, Scientific Jury
Selection: What Social Scientists Know and Do Not Know, 73
Judicature 178, 182-83 (1989/1990) (noting that “[t]he structure
provided in opening statements helps the jury organize the
evidence and guides the jury's thinking during the trial”).
Harry Kalven, Jr. & Hans Zeisel, The American Jury, 23 Am. J.
Trial Advoc. 203, 203 (1999) (observing that studies have shown
that 80 percent of jurors make up their minds after opening
statements); see also James W. Quinn, The Mega-Case Marathon, 26
Litig. 16, 20 (2000) ( “Most experts agree that the jurors' first
impressions from opening statement can be powerful influences at
the end of the case.”).
Benson v. State, 111 Nev. 692, 695-96, 895 P.2d 1323, 1326 (1995)
(observing that a defendant's motion for, or consent to, a
mistrial removes any double jeopardy bar to reprosecution unless
the prosecutor intended to provoke a mistrial); see also United
States v. Pollack, 640 F.2d 1153, 1155 (10th Cir.1981) (noting
that the general rule is that when a defendant in a criminal
proceeding moves for a mistrial, he thereby consents to retrial).
Mortensen v. State, 115 Nev. 273, 281, 986 P.2d 1105, 1111 (1999)
(noting that reversal is warranted because the district court
abused its discretion in denying a motion for a mistrial); see
also People v. Silva, 25 Cal.4th 345, 106 Cal.Rptr.2d 93, 21 P.3d
769, 788 (2001) (observing that a district court should grant a
mistrial when a defendant's chances of having a fair trial have
been irreparably damaged); Bauder v. State, 921 S.W.2d 696, 698
(Tex.Crim.App.1996) (noting that a mistrial may be granted when
prejudicial events occur during the trial process).
U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984).
v. State, 116 Nev. 148, 154, 995 P.2d 465, 469 (2000) (citing
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052).
L. Smith, Attempt at a Graceful Exit from the Rudin Trial Painful
to Watch, Las Vegas Review Journal, Mar. 18, 2001.
Young v. District Court, 107 Nev. 642, 649, 818 P.2d 844, 848
(1991) (“Defense counsel assumes a vital role in the preservation
of a constitutional system of criminal justice that guarantees
fundamental fairness to defendants who stand in jeopardy of losing
life, liberty or property.”); see also Brescia v. New Jersey,
417 U.S. 921, 924, 94 S.Ct. 2630, 41 L.Ed.2d 227 (1974) (Marshall,
J., dissenting from denial of certiorari) (observing that
opportunity for adequate preparation is an absolute prerequisite
for defense counsel to fulfill his constitutionally assigned role
of seeing to it that the State proves its case and raising any
SCR 158(4) (“Prior to the conclusion of representation of a
client, a lawyer shall not make or negotiate an agreement giving
the lawyer literary or media rights to a portrayal or account
based in substantial part on information relating to
representation.”); see also Model Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 1.8
cmt. 3 (1998) (observing that an agreement by which a lawyer
acquires literary or media rights concerning the conduct of the
representation creates a conflict between the client's interests
and lawyer's personal interests).
v. State, 109 Nev. 1, 3, 846 P.2d 276, 277 (1993).
Nev. 324, 326, 831 P.2d 1374, 1376 (1992).
Canon 3B(7)(a) (stating that “[w]here circumstances require, ex
parte communications for ․ emergencies ․ are authorized”).
SHEARING, C.J., BECKER and GIBBONS, JJ.,
concur.MAUPIN, J., concur.