Landlady, 64, goes on trial in nine murders 7 corpses found in her flower beds

February 10, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MONTEREY, Calif. -- More than four years after investigators dug seven bodies from the back yard of Sacramento landlady Dorothea Montalvo Puente, a prosecutor told jurors he will prove she murdered the seven and buried them in her garden, as well as killing two others, whom she buried elsewhere.

Yesterday, in opening statements of the long-awaited trial of Ms. Puente, arrested in 1988 on charges of murdering nine people, Sacramento prosecutor John O'Mara methodically painted ......TC picture of the retrieval of bodies buried under flower beds behind the Victorian boardinghouse Ms. Puente ran in downtown Sacramento.

The trial is being held in Monterey County, where the case was moved because of extensive news coverage in Sacramento.

As the dainty Ms. Puente, clad in a patterned dress and black cardigan, folded and unfolded a white handkerchief in a packed Monterey courtroom, Mr. O'Mara narrated a gruesome video of the rotted corpses and described them as "shadow people" whose disappearances wouldn't be noticed for months or years.

"They are shadow people in the sense that they are always there but we never see them," Mr. O'Mara told the jury of eight men and four women.

Prosecutors have portrayed Ms. Puente, 64, as a cold-blooded murderer who drugged nine victims between 1982 and 1988 to collect their disability, Social Security or other government benefits. Ms. Puente has acknowledged forging the names of her tenants and cashing their government checks both before and after their deaths.

Public defenders representing Ms. Puente say her victims died of natural causes and suicide, not murder.

Ms. Puente has been held without bail since 1988 in Sacramento County Jail but was moved to Monterey County Jail in November when jury selection began. If convicted, she could face the death penalty.

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