Prosecutors in murder trial: 19-year-old bride 'a means to an end'
Prosecutors in former suburban lawyer Donnie Rudd's murder trial painted him as a man who married his 19-year-old second wife Noreen Kumeta after a whirlwind courtship, then killed her within weeks for the life insurance payouts.
"The defendant married Noreen because he wanted to kill her, and 27 days after he married her he did just that," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy said Tuesday during opening arguments in a case stemming from Kumeta's death nearly 45 years ago.
"Noreen was a pawn, a means to an end," said McCarthy, referring to the $120,000 Rudd collected upon Kumeta's death on Sept. 14, 1973, on what former Barrington Hills police officer Christopher Bish described as a "desolate, sparsely populated" stretch of road in Barrington Township.
Defense attorney Timothy Grace challenged prosecutors' interpretation of the events that Friday night when Rudd claimed his bride -- who he met when they worked at Quaker Oats in Barrington -- was thrown from their car after another driver ran them off the road near Bateman and Dundee roads.
"Opening statements are what lawyers anticipate, hope and pray the evidence will be," said Grace who insisted Noreen died in a terrible accident.
No evidence indicates Rudd killed his wife for her life insurance policies, Grace said, adding that prosecutors do not know when she obtained the policies, when she named Rudd a beneficiary and if he knew he was her beneficiary.
Rudd, 76, has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say he staged the accident to cover up Kumeta's death, which was initially classified as an accident with a spinal fracture listed as the cause, according to Dr. Jae Han, a retired obstetrics and gynecology specialist. Han was moonlighting as an emergency room doctor at what was then Sherman Hospital in Elgin where Kumeta was pronounced dead on arrival. Han read from a hospital report he signed after testifying he did not remember treating Kumeta.
Bish, then a rookie, was among the first officers on the scene of the accident. He told jurors he found the car resting near a barbed wire fence about 165 feet from the road.
Bish testified he found Rudd sitting in the driver's seat with Kumeta's head in his lap and her body stretched out.
Bish testified there was blood on the side of the seat and blood on the passenger door.
After he and another officer lifted Kumeta out of the car, Bish performed CPR on her. He said she had no visible injuries to her neck or body.
Rudd claimed another driver crossed into their lane and when he tried to avoid the vehicle, the passenger door opened and Kumeta was ejected, Bish said, adding that Rudd pointed to a nearby rock with blood and hair on it, suggesting that was where Kumeta struck her head. However, Bish said he detected no blood on the ground or around the rock.
Asked by Grace on cross-examination how he remembered details from more than four decades ago, Bish replied it was the first fatality he ever encountered.
No autopsy on Kumeta was performed until 40 years later, when Arlington Heights police exhumed her remains as part of their investigation into the 1991 unsolved murder of interior designer and former Rudd client Loretta Tabak-Bodtke, who was found shot to death in her Arlington Heights townhouse. Police officials say that case remains open and Rudd remains a suspect, although he has not been charged.
Prosecutors say Rudd represented Tabak-Bodtke in a dispute with a business partner. They say he told the designer he had won her case and promised to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars into her account. When he failed to do so, prosecutors say, Tabak-Bodtke threatened to report Rudd to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which they say had received similar complaints from other Rudd clients.
A former Northwest suburban patent attorney, Rudd was disbarred in 1994 for fraud and unlawful conduct.
In 2013, a Kane County medical examiner determined Kumeta died from blunt force trauma to the head and labeled her death a homicide, prosecutors said. They say two other forensic pathologists concurred with those findings.
Testimony continues today.