By PAUL WHEELER
A Santa Ana man “shattered” his wife’s skull after she kicked him out because she suspected he was cheating on her and had gambled away $100,000 in pension money when the family was about to lose their home, a prosecutor seeking a first-degree murder conviction told jurors today.
Agustin Armaraz Espinoza’s attorney countered that her 58-year-old client “snapped” and is not guilty of premeditated murder.
Espinoza is accused of fatally beating his 53-year-old slumbering wife in bed at the home they shared at 2410 N. Wright St.
When the victim’s co-workers were unable to contact her after she missed two days of work, police went to her home for a welfare check on July 29, 2010, and found her body on an air mattress in a blood-spattered bedroom,
Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray said.
“Her skull was fractured,” the prosecutor said. “It was fractured so badly it shattered in several places.”
Marisela Gomez Espinoza sustained at least six blows to the head, the prosecutor said.
Murray warned jurors they would see graphic photos of the victim and hear testimony about her wounds.
“The information about the massive skull fractures are not gratuitous,” Murray said. “They are to explain what this defendant did …
They are not wild blows done in a fit of anger.
They were well-placed and they were placed to do the exact damage the defendant wanted. They weren’t meant to incapacitate her, they were meant to kill her.”
The victim’s husband took her purse and tried at first unsuccessfully to use her debit cards to get money from the credit union to which she belonged, Murray said.
He also took her cell phone so he could check her voice mail messages and see whether investigators were on his trail, the prosecutor said.
“It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan,” he told jurors.
The defendant went to the credit union at 5:50 a.m., but was unable to get money out of a joint account, so he went to a Bank of America branch in San Bernardino about 10 a.m. the same day to use her debit card to get money there, Murray said.
Espinoza finally figured out the personal identification number after trying for 20 minutes and withdrew about $300 and fled to Mexico, the prosecutor said.
He was arrested about 3 p.m. that day coming back from Mexico.
“The defendant knew he needed a quick fix” of cash, Murray said, “because there was a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
The defendant was the sole beneficiary of insurance policies worth about $500,000, Murray said.
Investigators never found the victim’s purse, debit cards, or the murder weapon, Murray said.
“All we know is he went to Mexico, and when he came back all that stuff was gone,” except for the victim’s Social Security card and the cash he took out of the bank account, which was found on the defendant, Murray said.
“All I ask you to do is one thing,” the prosecutor told the jury. “I want you to hold this man responsible for the brutal, selfish murder of a defenseless woman.”
The defendant’s attorney, Tracy LeSage of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said the couple was married for 37 years.
Espinoza was laid off after working for a company for 20 years that was relocating its plant out of the country, LeSage said. He had been unemployed for two years when the couple got into a dispute and talked about divorce, LeSage said. The two had four children together.
“He’s not a cold-blooded murderer, and this was not an intentional murder,” LeSage said.
Espinoza cashed in his retirement account to help make ends meet as he struggled to find another job, LeSage said.
“The bills were piling up” and the couple was “upside down” on the house mortgage when they discussed divorce in July 2010, LeSage said.
“Instead of his family rallying behind him,” they “erased all of the 37 years he worked so hard to provide for them,” LeSage said. “They called him useless, worthless. That sent Mr. Espinoza to the depths of depression, a black hole, until one day he finally had to say, `I don’t have any more money.”’
When the defendant was kicked out of the house by his wife and their adult children, “He snapped … And on that day in July he got into an argument with his wife, and she died.”
The defense attorney said she planned to argue that the killing was spontaneous and was done in the heat of passion.
“He was a man brought to the brink of the pressures of life,” LeSage said.
Although the defendant started drinking and “hanging out” in casinos, there’s no evidence of excessive gambling or any infidelity, LeSage said.