The Los Altos woman who stabbed her estranged husband inside their construction business office while ensconced in bubble wrap wanted to kill him for a $2 million life insurance policy and because she hated the man with whom she was in the middle of an acrimonious divorce, according to a prosecutor who told jurors she had a criminal to-do list in her purse.
“Make sure it’s done” was number five on Laura Jean Wenke’s handwritten list which outlined preparations to murder her husband, Randy, burn down the building with linseed oil and frame somebody else, prosecutor Tricia Povah told jurors Monday during closing arguments.
Wenke’s defense attorney Geoff Carr didn’t dispute his client stabbed her husband on Sept. 15, 2011, but picked apart the prosecution’s theory of motive and argued that she has mental illness issues exacerbated by misdiagnosis and mismedication.
Wenke, 53, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to premeditated attempted murder, assault with a knife, assault with a stun gun and domestic violence. During the trial, the defense called several doctors to testify that Wenke suffered from bipolar disorder, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder but Povah Monday argued she was simply building a mental defense because she can’t plausibly argue she either didn’t do it or was acting in self-defense.
“This was not a case between two strangers,” Povah said, telling jurors that Wenke’s motive for wanting her husband dead included a life insurance policy poised to expire three months after the attack and a deep hatred for the father of her young son who she spent countless therapy sessions focused on.
“How much easier would her life have been to simply erase him from the equation?” Povah said.
Povah said Wenke began planning her crime at least a week before the attack by arranging a baby-sitter for her son and setting up a dummy client by email with which to lure her husband to his office at 7:15 p.m. that night. Neither investigators for the prosecutor nor defense ever located the supposed client, Perry Hadden, and he was never heard from after that night.
Wenke allegedly purchased a mechanic’s jumpsuit, boots, a stun gun and a mask and drove from Los Altos to the office on Laurel Street in Redwood City. Once there, she parked the truck in front of the window to block passersby and asked Wenke to look at a computer screen in another room, Povah said.
Wenke stabbed her husband twice, slicing a 4-inch gash across the back of his neck and puncturing his lung. Povah said it is unclear if she actually made contact with the stun gun. Police found Wenke at the scene with blood on her hands and wearing the mechanic’s jumpsuit and bubble wrap. Three gallons of highly flammable linseed oil and a bucket of rags were in the back seat of her vehicle — signs of her arson plan because the Wenke house had once caught fire because of linseed oil-doused rags used for cleaning, Povah said.
Notes on the to-do list to “set up attic” and “check fire alarms” to ensure the batteries were missing were other alleged signs.
Carr countered Povah’s argument by pointing out there is no indication when Wenke made her list so jurors cannot say it was specific to the day of the attack. Lots of wives have such a plan on any given day, he joked.
Wenke had no “reasonable motive” to kill her husband because the $2 million in life insurance paled compared to the $6 million to $8 million the company pulled in annually, Carr said.
Instead, he said, “this woman by any interpretation has a series of psychological things going on.”
Carr also took aim at Wenke’s reported crime accouterments, saying there is no proof she purchased the stun gun and that the mask with which she was supposedly going to frame a mustached man had no strap to stay on her head.
After the stabbing, police asked Randy Wenke who hurt him and Carr said his answer speaks to Laura Wenke’s mental issues.
Wenke, Carr said, told the officer “that crazy b—.”
Wenke remains in custody without bail.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102