By JOY JUEDES
A Lakewood man and his friend were sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the financially motivated murder of his 70-year-old sister at her La Quinta home.
James Charles Oudin, 75, and Hesperia resident Wesley Elwin Gibbs Jr., 47, were convicted in May of first-degree murder for financial gain in the death of Oudin’s sister, Judy Munson, who owned two successful cleaning businesses.
Munson’s housekeeper found her in her foyer, surrounded by blood, on June 11, 2011. She had been killed the day before.
Oudin became emotional as he told Riverside County Superior Court Judge
James S. Hawkins that he had nothing to do with his sister’s death, and claimed that investigators lied on multiple occasions.
“I love my sister and would never hurt her,” he said.
Before Oudin’s sentence was handed down, his son Jason stood up and accused the prosecution of misstating facts, then left the courtroom. He later returned and apologized.
“It’s (my) dad’s life, (but my) aunt died. I’m in the middle, I can’t pick a side,” he said. “I’ve lost my whole family over this and it’s hard. I don’t think he (his father) got a fair trial.”
Oudin’s daughter-in-law, Andrea Dennis, told the judge there “was not a single piece of hard evidence” against her husband’s father and information from probate proceedings didn’t point to Oudin’s guilt.
Gibbs, who began representing himself after his conviction, argued that he didn’t have enough time to prepare for the sentencing hearing and wanted DNA testing done on items related to the crime.
“The only thing I’m guilty of in this whole thing is knowing Mr. Oudin,” said Gibbs, who said he was in Lakewood at the time of Munson’s death.
He said no one checked records of his text messages that day, and his “spending spree” alleged by the prosecution after Munson’s death totaled $210.
“I think there’s a lot of reasonable doubt in this case,” he said. “… There are so many questions on things that if they were presented to the court could have resulted in a different verdict.”
Gibbs’ son, Vincent, said authorities fixated on his father to the exclusion of others and relied on faulty police reports about a police dog that traced his father’s scent on Munson’s shirt.
“That’s the only thing you guys have pointing to him. There’s no weapon, no evidence he did anything wrong,” he said.
Gibbs’ daughter-in-law, Rachell Grant, said information presented in court was contradictory.
“I’ve been to every single court date and I don’t feel everything has gone by fairly … So it’s not fair for them to say he went on a spending spree and it all came from James Oudin,” she said.
Munson’s close friend, Sharon Keplinger, said the victim “loved her brother and tried over and over to help him, but it was never enough.”
She said it breaks her heart to think Munson was struck in the head with a hammer, “and by her own brother.”
“I loved her very much and we will miss her,” she said.
Hawkins denied the defendants’ requests for a new trial. Gibbs said he planned to appeal “and hopefully get a more justifiable decision.”
Oudin was arrested in Los Angeles County last August, and Gibbs was taken into custody in a remote area of eastern San Bernardino County. Deputy District Attorney Pete Nolan said a coroner’s official initially thought Munson fell, and authorities called Oudin, Munson’s closest relative.
He and his family came to the house and left with some of Munson’s belongings, Nolan said.
“What we find out … when the forensic pathologist conducted the autopsy was this was no slip and fall,” Nolan said, telling jurors that three blows to the victim’s head had a checkered, textured pattern.
He said people who knew Munson “all had the same impression — she was supporting her brother and his family and was sick and tired of it.”
A neighbor said she saw a man helping an older man, who used a walker, out of a car at Munson’s house the day she died, and cell phone records traced Oudin to La Quinta that day, according to the prosecutor.
Nolan said Oudin filed documents in probate court asking to be appointed administrator of his sister’s estate, even though she had a will and an executor. Investigators found more than $400,000 in cash at Oudin’s home, he said.
The prosecutor said Gibbs, who had worked for Oudin at a failed restaurant business backed by Munson and subsequently worked at Subway, went on a “spending spree” after the victim’s death, including staying in hotels and buying his son a vehicle. He also noted that a sheriff’s bloodhound traced a scent on the shirt Munson was wearing to Gibbs.
He said investigators looked into every excuse the defendants had, including Oudin’s assertion that his sister had a stalker, stores Gibbs said he went to the day Munson was killed and his claim that the funds he was paying debts with was money his sons had saved.
“They’ve been given every benefit of the doubt, and what becomes crystal clear when you put the pieces together is Mr. Oudin had the motive, Mr. Gibbs certainly wanted to ride on that coattail,” Nolan said. “We know they were both here … the only reasonable conclusion is these defendants conspired to kill Judy.”
Oudin’s attorney, Neil Harrison, contended that investigators made a “big mistake” by focusing their probe from the outset on his client, who helped his sister run her businesses.
“Mr. Oudin had absolutely no motive to kill his sister to get her businesses, he was already a part of those businesses,” Harrison said.
He said that a few years before her death, Munson began hoarding money during the financial crisis, stashing it at her brother’s house or wherever he was staying. A man living with the Oudins found the money in 2008, the attorney said.
He said Oudin went to La Quinta to see his sister the day she died because she was leaving for Europe the next day. But she didn’t have time for him, and the security guard at Munson’s gated community, who knew Oudin, did not see him go through the gate that day, Harrison said.
The defense attorney said the neighbor who reported seeing two men going to Munson’s house the day she died couldn’t pick Oudin out of a photo lineup.
And, he said, her home was cleaned up after she was found dead because the coroner thought she fell.
“The crime scene was not treated as a crime scene … there is no forensic evidence in this case because it was erased,” Harrison said.
He said those who knew Oudin said he loved his sister and “had no propensity for violence.”
“That he would put a hammer or have someone else put a hammer to the back of her head is preposterous,” Harrison said.
Gibbs’ attorney, Mickie Reed, also said Munson’s neighbor couldn’t pick her client out of a lineup and even excluded him from a list of possible suspects. She said Gibbs went shopping the day Munson died and was not arrested until the bloodhound allegedly traced his scent on Munson’s shirt.
“Supposedly the trail ended in the (sheriff’s) lobby where my client was, but you’re going to hear from experts this is an incorrect procedure,” Reed said. “The evidence they’re relying on was a very faulty procedure where they created evidence … you’ll reach the conclusion there is no evidence.”