Crime

Woman who murdered spouse for insurance sentenced to death

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A death sentence was handed down for a Moreno Valley woman who fatally shot her 56-year-old husband to collect more than $1 million in life insurance proceeds.

A Riverside jury in August convicted 62-year-old Lorraine Alison Hunter of murdering Albert Thomas in 2009 and ultimately recommended that she receive capital punishment for the slaying.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher agreed with the jury's recommendation, rejecting a defense plea for Hunter's sentence to be reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.   

Along with first-degree murder, jurors in her two-month trial found true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and killing for financial gain.

The prosecution's key witness was Hunter's now-23-year-old daughter, Briuana Lashanae Hunter, who confessed to plotting with her mother to kill Thomas. 

Briuana Hunter pleaded guilty last year to three counts of attempted murder and one count of voluntary manslaughter. She's slated to be sentenced Wednesday to 18 years, nine months in state prison.

The young woman, who's being held without bail at the Indio Jail, testified that her stepfather was a "calm, quiet person,'' who was "never overly aggressive'' in the seven years that she and her mother lived with him in Moreno Valley.

The witness stated that he held down two jobs -- one as a short-haul trucker and another as a clerk at a Moreno Valley Auto Zone.   

According to Hunter, her mother frequently argued with Thomas about not having enough money to spend. Deputy District Attorney Will Robinson described the elder Hunter as "money hungry'' and not interested in holding down a job to contribute to the household.

Briuana Hunter said she aided her mother in filling out at least three life insurance applications, naming her stepfather as the insured party and Lorraine Hunter as the principal beneficiary. The woman forged Thomas' name on each application.

Hunter took out a $750,000 policy, as well as a $10,000 policy, Robinson said. A third policy apparently lapsed before Thomas was killed.   

Thomas additionally had a $450,000 policy through the trucking company for which he worked, according to court papers. 

In the two months before he was killed, Lorraine Hunter planned to shoot Thomas three other times -- twice on walks through their neighborhood in the area of Day Street and Eucalyptus Avenue, and another time outside the victim's workplace -- but each time the presence of too many witnesses foiled the plots.

Briuana Hunter admitted being there on each occasion, knowing beforehand what her mother had planned.

On the evening of Nov. 3, 2009, Thomas and the defendants left their apartment and strolled to his big rig, where he wanted to grab a sweatshirt that he had bought for his then-15-year-old stepdaughter, according to trial testimony.

The three of them climbed into his truck, and Thomas ducked into the rear sleeper compartment to find the shirt, while Hunter and her daughter sat in the front seat.

Robinson said Lorraine Hunter pulled a small-caliber handgun she'd stolen from a member of her church and shot the victim point-blank in the back of the head twice, then shot him twice in the upper back as he knelt in the compartment. Sheriff's deputies found him dead in a kneeling position. 

Hunter and her daughter fled the scene with the help of a relative, and the case went cold for two years, until the same relative confessed everything she knew to investigators after being arrested herself for an unrelated offense.

Robinson theorized during Hunter's penalty trial that she was a sociopath with blood on her hands when she married Thomas. 

The prosecutor argued to jurors that she had masterminded, and probably carried out, the slaying of her previous husband, Allen Brown, who was gunned down in what appeared to be a random act of violence in Inglewood in 1996. The circumstances were eerily similar to Thomas' death, with Brown shot in the back, and like Thomas, the victim was a truck driver.

No charges were ever filed in the case, which remains officially unsolved.


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