The state Supreme Court on Friday denied a petition to review an appellate ruling that upheld the murder conviction of a man who orchestrated the killing of his wife, who was a state corrections officer, in Anaheim 18 years ago for financial gain.Nuzzio Begaren, now 55, was sentenced in May 2014 to 25 years to life in prison for the Jan. 17, 1998, murder of Elizabeth Wheat Begaren, whom he had married about six months earlier.
Begaren hired gang members, who ambushed his wife along the Riverside (91) Freeway to make it look like a robbery. Begaren was actually trying to collect on a $1 million life insurance policy he took out on his spouse, according to trial testimony.
On the day of the murder, Begaren, his wife and his 10-year-old daughter went to a Macy’s store in Burbank, said Senior Deputy District Larry Yellin. The trip to the store, during which Begaren had his wife carry about $5,000 in cash in her purse, was part of a ruse to establish an alibi for the defendant, according to Yellin.
The cash was payment the killers would collect after an ambush, the prosecutor said.
About 11 p.m., Begaren pulled the family’s Kia Sportage off the 91 Freeway in Anaheim and then started to get back on the highway, but the gang members following them “forced” the vehicle off the road, Yellin said.
As the gunman got out of the car, the victim tried to run from the vehicle and was shot in the face and chest, Yellin said.
The case went cold until her husband’s arrest in 2012. Authorities finally caught up to the alleged gunman, Guillermo Espinoza, in Mexico earlier this year, and he is awaiting trial.
Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt cracked the case when he found a phone bill Begaren had tried to eliminate, the Fourth District Court of Appeal panel noted in its May 25 ruling.
The phone bill was the issue on which Begaren focused in his appeal. His attorney argued that the AT&T custodian of records was not qualified to testify on the authenticity of the phone bill from 1998.
The custodian testified he was unaware of phone billing procedures back in the late 1990s, but when he looked at the bill, “based on how it looks … not a whole lot has changed. It still shows the date and time where it was called from. It looks about the same as I am used to seeing.”
Begaren made the call to a “boyhood friend who had actually pulled the trigger at Begaren’s behest,” according to the appellate ruling.
Co-defendant Rudy Duran was sentenced in May 2015 to six years in prison after striking a plea deal and has since been released from jail. Another co-defendant, Jose Luis Sandoval, also reached a plea deal and was sentenced to time served behind bars.
— City News Service
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