A woman who fatally stabbed her 83-year-old husband at their Rancho Mirage home more than 10 years ago is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 18 after striking a plea deal that averts a second trial in the case, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
The victim’s bloody body with dozens of stab wounds was found with crosses, crucifixes and a statue of Jesus nearby. A fight over the husband’s will may have been involved as a motive.
In 2012, an Indio jury found Marsha Kay Esswein, now 74, guilty of first-degree murder in the Aug. 8, 2008, death of her husband, Richard Esswein, at their home in the Mission Hills Country Club.
The state’s 4th District Court of Appeal subsequently ordered a new trial, citing prosecutorial misconduct.
The appellate panel determined that Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Christopher R. Ross argued during his opening statement that Esswein’s actions were premeditated, when in fact no such evidence was presented to jurors attesting to those allegations during the trial.
Esswein, who remains in custody at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside without bail, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Tuesday, according to John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
According to preliminary hearing testimony from 2009, the couple were getting a divorce at the time of the murder, and acquaintances said the victim may have been trying to change his will.
Riverside County sheriff’s Investigator Nelson Gomez testified that he did not see any signs of a struggle in the home.
Gomez said two knives were found in Marsha Esswein’s room and some pills were found in the bathroom. He said that when he went to the husband’s room, he saw the body partially covered with a blanket.
“There were some type of crosses, crucifixes on him and a statue of Jesus above his head,” Gomez said, adding that he saw bloodstains on the carpet, bed, a desk and leading out into the hallway.
During an interview at a hospital later that day, Esswein admitted stabbing her husband and placing the items on and around his body because he was a Catholic, according to Gomez.
He said Esswein told him that the couple had gotten into an argument about how “the meat had been cooked” the night before, and that her husband put a knife to her throat and told her “if she made another comment he would kill her.”
She said she followed him to his room where the couple, who both had knives, began to struggle and ended up on the floor, he testified.
“She ended up on top of him and she ended up stabbing him,” Gomez said, adding that Esswein changed her story about what happened several times during the interview.
Investigators believed the defendant’s cuts on her wrists and neck were self-inflicted.
An autopsy determined that Richard Esswein had multiple stab wounds, including 15 to 20 “poke wounds” and more than 10 “incision-type wounds,” sheriff’s Detective Gary LeClair testified.
Gomez testified that Marsha Esswein told him that she was bipolar and had seen a psychiatrist.
According to court documents, friends and relatives told investigators that a possible motive for the killing may have been financial, and that Richard Esswein may have been attempting to alter his will. Relatives told authorities that several unusual cash withdrawals and money transfers had occurred within a month of his death.
Gomez testified that an active will found at the house left everything to Richard Esswein’s children. Another will, which was invalid, left everything to Marsha Esswein, he testified.
The couple were married for 27 years but had no children together.
According to the divorce petition, the couple’s assets included their Rancho Mirage home, a 2003 BMW, a company called Associated Financial Consultants Inc., a 401K and Roth IRA in Marsha Esswein’s name and a family trust.