Castro v. Ballesteros-Suarez – 6/18/2009
Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A Widow Found by a Preponderance of the Evidence to Have Feloniously and Intentionally Killed Her Husband Is Not Entitled to Life Insurance Proceeds.
Decedent was shot to death in his home, and his death has later ruled a homicide. Decedent’s widow was a suspect in his murder and a beneficiary of his life insurance policies. After the widow requested life insurance proceeds, two insurance companies filed interpleader actions. During ensuing discovery, the widow repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that a preponderance of the evidence supported that widow was guilty of the felonious and intentional killing of decedent, and therefore the slayer statute prevented her from receiving any of the life insurance proceeds. This appeal followed.
The Arizona Appeals Court held that the slayer statute (A.R.S. § 14-2803) barred widow from receiving any of decedent’s life insurance proceeds. There was substantial circumstantial evidence – including the testimony of a detective, widow’s forgery of a beneficiary form, and widow’s invocation of her Fifth Amendment privilege – to support a finding that widow was criminally accountable for decedent’s death. Although widow may not have been the actual killer, the slayer statute applies equally to an accomplice to homicide. The Court also explained that the slayer statute may be invoked without probable cause to arrest; all that is required is that the trier of fact find by a preponderance of the evidence that the person is criminally accountable for the decedent’s death. Finally, because the slayer statute expressly states that “a killer cannot profit from that person’s wrong,” the Court rejected widow’s argument that she possessed a community property interest in the proceeds.
Judge Portley authored the opinion; Judges Hall and Brown concurred.