Indio Police cruiser
An Indio Police cruiser. Zemek was taken into custody by Indio Police, even though she was in Palm Desert. Courtesy of the Indio Police Department.

It sounds like a film noir movie plot, but it’s every senior citizen’s real-life nightmare.

A new friendship, a new will and now new charges of murder, elder abuse and theft.

A Palm Desert woman accused of causing a string of ultimately fatal overdoses in a woman she was caring for in order to gain access to the victim’s estate and more than $200,000 in her bank accounts pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and other felony charges.

Marilyn Joy Zemek, 59, is charged with murder, elder abuse, grand theft, identity theft, perjury and a special circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain in the June 17, 2016, death of Pamelia Powell, 69, of Indio.

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to pursue the death penalty, should Zemek be convicted.

Authorities allege that Zemek had Powell draft a new will leaving her possessions and bank account information to the defendant, then caused Powell’s fatal overdose of phenobarbital, which the victim had been taking for several years to regulate seizures.

Zemek and Powell met at a Palm Desert “Botox party” in late 2015, and “within a few weeks, Zemek managed to become a major part of Powell’s life,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Neighbors alleged that the defendant was inside Powell’s home at 81562 Avenida Viesca for about 90 minutes before calling 911 to report her death.

In the months prior to Powell’s death, her health deteriorated rapidly, with three hospitalizations due to phenobarbital overdoses or intoxication that led her doctor to remove the drug from her medication list in April 2016, according to court documents.

Prosecutors allege that after Zemek became Powell’s primary caretaker, she continued providing the drug to Powell, who suffered “altered mental states, disorientation, delusions and confusion” during hospital stays in early 2016, according to medical records and accounts from Powell’s neighbors and friends.

Powell was not allowed to make medical decisions for herself, but was signed out of a medical facility in late May against doctor’s advice, allegedly at Zemek’s behest. One week prior to her death, she drafted a new will giving Zemek power of attorney and naming her as the beneficiary on Powell’s Edward Jones brokerage account and the recipient of all her possessions, including “every item in the victim’s house,” the affidavit states.

That will superseded one that Powell drafted in November 2015 naming several others as her beneficiaries, according to court documents. Zemek was not among those listed in that document.

Following Powell’s death, investigators found that more than 100 charges, totaling nearly $8,000, were made on her credit card, according to the declaration. When the account was frozen, prosecutors claim Zemek successfully restored access to the account by claiming she was Powell. She was allegedly captured on video footage making some of the purchases on Powell’s credit card.

Zemek also filed probate paperwork in Nevada to become appointed special administrator to Powell’s estate and “withdrew $201,634 in three cashier’s checks made out to herself from Powell’s account,” the affidavit alleges.

Zemek was taken into custody June 12 by Indio police near Frank Sinatra Drive and Portola Avenue in Palm Desert and is being held without bail, according to county jail records. She is scheduled to return to court Aug. 7 for a bail review hearing.

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