Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Accused Killers Catch a Break

Reprinted from Women In Crime Ink.

by Cathy Scott

Two murder cases with women as the accused killers have taken similar -- and unusual -- turns. Each was instantly labeled the “Black Widow.” And both women stood to gain millions should their husbands die.

In the first case, San Juan and Manhattan socialite 
Barbara Koganwas indicted late last year for the 1990 murder of her millionaire husband George. She stood accused of convincing her attorney to hire a hitman to kill George. Kogan’s estranged husband, with whom she was in the middle of a nasty divorce, was shot to death in broad daylight while George was walking from a neighborhood market to his live-in girlfriend’s high-rise apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Joel Seidemann, the Manhattan assistant district attorney who has been on the case for nearly two decades, is expected to refile a fresh charge against Kogan by the end of this year. During Kogan's arraignment in November 2008, Seidemann described the suspect as "a very angry woman."

"But when that anger became so overwhelming," he told the judge, "she decided to litigate the divorce through the bullets of a gun."

The second defendant is 
Margaret Rudin, charged and convicted of killing her husband, wealthy real estate investor Ronald Rudin, then driving the body to a remote area on the shore of Lake Mojave 45 miles outside of Las Vegas, stuffing him inside an antique truck and setting it on fire.

The commonalities with the two women, both of whom are now 65 years old, are many. Rudin, who was convicted of murder, has been granted a new trial. Rudin’s conviction was overturned in December 2008 by Clark County District Court 
Judge Sally Loehrer, who ruled that Rudin, who has spent the last nine years in a Nevada state prison, had “ineffective counsel” during her first trial.

And Barbara Kogan, accused of second-degree murder in the contract killing of her estranged husband, has had the charge dismissed on a technicality. In July, State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus ruled that because another grand jury had failed to indict Kogan in the 1990s, prosecutors needed judicial permission to empanel a new grand jury that handed down the indictment against Kogan last year. The prosecution, he said, failed to get that permission.

Both women are expected to be in their respective courtrooms on opposite ends of the country sometime next year. Rudin’s first trial, which was much publicized and lasted 10 weeks, was one of Las Vegas's highest profile murder cases. For Kogan, “48 Hours” and “Dateline” have already made arrangements to be in the courtroom for the trial, which is expected to last eight weeks.

While prosecutors in both crimes claim greed as the motive, in the Kogan case, the only evidence against her is circumstantial at best -- unless, by trial time, the prosecution comes up with more.

As for Rudin, it's mostly circumstantial as well, with hard evidence against her shaky. Her husband was missing in 1994, his car found at a strip club. Later, a boy and his father, out fishing together, discovered the burnt trunk and body near the shore of Lake Mojave on the Nevada side of the water. A gun, said to be the murder weapon, found months later in the lake, was not registered to Rudin or her husband, so that connection was never made, just conjectured.

After Rudin was granted a new trial, her new attorney, Christopher Oram, told reporters, "Obviously, we're very happy with the judge's ruling and look forward to going to trial.”

Kogan’s new counsel, high-profile criminal defense lawyer Barry Levin, said he’s looking forward to going to trial as well. “I intend to represent her zealously. I think she will be acquitted,” Levin said.

It all will unfold in their respective courtrooms. For the prosecution, both cases at this juncture appear to be uphill battles. But you never know what might happen as both sides sides duke it out in court.

Photo of Barbara Kogan in court (top) courtesy of the New York Daily News and photo of Margaret Rudin courtesy of TruTV.

Cathy Scott is writing a true crime book (St. Martin's Press) about the Barbara Kogan case.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Real or Rumor? Tupac's Killer Charged?

Reprinted from Women in Ink Crime Blog
By Cathy Scott
It always amazes me when I see a rumor picked up by a media outlet, regardless of how small that outlet is. So I was once again surprised a couple weeks ago when I got an e-mail from a TV producer asking about an arrest in the 13-year-old murder case of platinum-selling rapper Tupac Shakur. I put on my sleuth cap and started digging. This is what was first reported, from Backseat Cuddler, a gossip site that got Tupac fans and the hip hop world hyped up: BREAKING NEWS - Tupac Shakur Killer Has Been Arrested In Las Vegas I just received a message from my source in Las Vegas that Tupac Shakur’s killer has been arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tupac died on September 13, 1996. On the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He died six days later of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest at the University Medical Center. Tupac Shakur was a rapper, actor, and social activist. Story developing…..

That prompted “Gossip Headlines” to print this reaction, which, in turn, prompted three pages of comments from readers:

Arrest Made? OMG, OMG, O-M-G, if this is true, hip-hop is about to go into a tailspin!!! According to BackSeatCuddler, Tupac Shakur’s killer has been arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada!!! It was there in Sin City 13 years ago (September 13 marked the 13th anniversary) where the legendary rapper was shot 4 times while sitting in the passenger seat of Suge Knight’s BMW after leaving a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand Hotel. Tupac died six days later from respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest caused by multiple gunshot wounds. See Original Story For More.

Wow, I thought to myself, how could I have missed that one? Maybe it had to do with Notorious B.I.G.’s case, I thought. And that was odd too, because Las Vegas reporters would have been all over the Tupac story. A source wasn’t listed in the postings. So I checked TV and print sites and there were no mentions of an arrest. Then I reached out to my law enforcement contacts in Las Vegas and Nevada. “No,” said a source in the Los Angeles area, “there haven't been any arrests in the Tupac and Biggie cases here.” Then I called the homicide unit of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and talked with a spokesperson. “There haven’t been any arrests in that case,” she said. I put out a few more feelers. I came up empty.

The only news involving Tupac, who, besides being a rapper, was an actor and poet, is that the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, runs, is partnering with Woodruff Library to prepare Tupac’s writings and papers for scholarly research. The Tupac Shakur Collection is currently housed within the Woodruff Library's Archives and Special Collections Department. It features Tupac’s handwritten lyrics, personal notes and fan correspondence, among other items. Meanwhile, the rumor about an arrest in Tupac's case coincided with the 13th anniversary of his murder. As a result of the anniversary and the rumor, record sales for Tupac’s music went through the roof. And sales for books about Tupac took off too. The warehouse manager at Huntington Press, my publisher for The Killing of Tupac Shakur, said sales had jumped and orders from Amazon.com were especially high. Other than that, it's been fairly quiet on the Tupac front. So much for a “developing story.”