Orange County Courthouse. Photo by John Schreiber.
Orange County Courthouse. Photo by John Schreiber.

A former nuclear engineer is a “genius by all accounts” as well as a “vicious, cold-blooded murderer” who thought he could get away with poisoning his wife, a prosecutor said Thursday, while the defendant’s attorney told jurors the case amounts to “suspicion, innuendo and conjecture.”

Paul Marshal Curry, 57, is charged with murder with special circumstances for financial gain and by poisoning, as well as insurance fraud, in the June 9, 1994, death of his wife, Linda. Jurors may also consider second- degree murder.

“You add knowledge, greed and insatiable appetite for money and always broke and what’s that lead to?” Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh said in his closing argument.

Curry and his wife met in 1989 while both worked at the San Onofre nuclear power plant in northern San Diego County. After her death at age 50 from nicotine poisoning, Curry collected $547,695 in life insurance and other benefits, Baytieh said.

Curry was a suspect in his wife’s death from the start, but investigators did not arrest him until after he was questioned in November 2010 when he was working as a building inspector in Salina, Kansas.

“That man over there thought he was going to get away with it,” Baytieh said, pointing to the defendant. “And he did, for 16 years. He thought he was smarter than everybody else, and it worked for him for 16 years.”

The case against Curry is largely circumstantial. For instance, Baytieh pointed to comments Curry made to a co-worker that he could poison someone and no one would know.

Curry had another conversation with a co-worker about how to extract nicotine, Baytieh said.

There was expert testimony during the trial that the victim had injection marks on the temple and behind the ears, Baytieh said. She had a high level of Ambien in her system, a sleeping aid that was not prescribed to her, the prosecutor added.

“He had to make sure she was completely sedated before he injected the nicotine,” which in high doses induces vomiting, Baytieh said.

The prosecutor pointed to the victim’s own words when she was questioned by investigators as she made multiple trips to hospitals and doctors to determine what was ailing her.

“Well, the only person I could think of that would do it would be Paul, and the only motive I can think of is money,” Linda Curry told investigators.

She told investigators her husband was acting “sneaky” and that the two had not had sex since they were married, according to Baytieh. The defendant was also eager to change her last name to his on official documents, according to the prosecutor.

During one hospital stay, the victim nearly died and there was evidence that her IV bag had been tampered with, Baytieh said, but the defendant was emailing their friends that she was receiving good medical care.

“Give me a break. Your wife almost died and there was tampering? You demand answers,” Baytieh said.

The prosecutor also pointed to the testimony of Curry’s wife prior to his marriage to Linda.

“She started getting sick, they can’t tell what’s wrong, she can barely get out of bed and then he says, ‘Hey, honey, let’s get some life insurance policies,”‘ Baytieh said. “He gets accepted, she gets rejected and shortly after that he leaves her, and quickly after that she’s fine. That’s his M.O., his plan, his scheme. She got lucky because she got rejected.”

Curry’s attorney, Lisa Kopelman of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, told jurors the prosecution’s case was weak.

“Make no mistake about it. Mr. Curry, this man right here, is an innocent man,” she said. “This case is all about conjecture, innuendo and suspicions, and that is not what guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is.”

The investigators who confronted Curry in November 2010 said his wife’s death was a murder, suicide or accidental, Kopelman argued. No one who knew her thought she wanted to take her own life, the defense attorney said.

“An accident is not a crime,” Kopelman said.

She conceded that her client “did commit insurance fraud” by claiming that a Rolex watch from his wife was stolen, but contended that he did so to pay for his wife’s funeral.

“Yes, he did a stupid thing, and yes it was a criminal thing,” Kopelman said. “And, of course, he didn’t want anyone looking into the insurance (claims) … Because of this cover-up, he’s being accused of being a vicious murderer.”

Curry received $9,108.23 for putting in false claims on valuables stolen after his wife’s death, according to Baytieh.

In her opening statement, Kopelman told jurors that Linda Curry suffered from a variety of maladies such as chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression and stomach pain. The defense attorney suggested that nicotine has been used to treat irritable bowel syndrome.

By most every account — even among those who “didn’t like him because he was smart and arrogant” — the two lived happily together in her San Clemente home, Kopelman said. She said some who knew the couple were suspicious of Curry because of the couple’s “May to December” romance.

City News Service

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