Prosecutors say 75-year-old Olga Rutterschmidt and 77-year-old Helen Louise Golay befriended two homeless men, 73-year-old Paul Vados and 51-year-old Kenneth McDavid. They claim Rutterschmidt and Golay offered to pay the men rent for studio apartments in exchange for their signature on life insurance policies.
Authorities say the women then had rubber stamps made of those signatures and completed 19 additional life insurance policies, making themselves the sole beneficiaries.
Police allege the defendants staged two separate hit-and-run incidents in secluded alleyways in Los Angeles, killing Vados and McDavid and then collecting $2.8 million.
During opening statements, the prosecution showed jurors grim coroner's photos of McDavid at the crime scene. Prosecutors also presented a timeline that showed within four minutes of McDavid being struck, Golay called for a tow truck to get rid of the vehicle involved.
Deputy District Attorney Truc Do detailed a nefarious plot: Selecting homeless men Kenneth McDavid and Paul Vados, paying their rent, taking out dozens of insurance policies, claiming to be a cousin or fiancee, then to cash in on their claim, allegedly running them over with a car.
The D.A. flashed surveillance photos of a silver station wagon entering a dark alley, stopping for four minutes, going into reverse, then accelerating. Documents were shown linking the car to Golay.
Investigators tracked the car down, allegedly finding the DNA of Kenneth McDavid on the undercarriage.
Attorney Gloria Allred represents McDavid's family, who may later sue for damages.
"It is the first time they are hearing an explanation from the prosecution in such detail," said Allred.
But a surprise appearance in the news conference outside the court: Defense attorney for Helen Golay, Roger Jon Diamond cautioned against a rush to judgment.
"I intervened to make sure that the press covers this case properly," said Diamond, Golay's attorney.
"And what are you concerned about, that we've said on behalf of the victims, that they're in pain, that they're devastated by the loss of their brother? What's wrong with that? That's true," said Allred to Diamond. "He's dead. He's never coming back."
"The issue is who caused the death," replied Diamond.
Evidence of fraud surfaced in an undercover video. Investigators recording the two women talking after their arrest.
"Did you read the accusation?" says Rutterschmidt. "Why did you get all those insurances? You were too greedy, that's the problem."
"Be quiet, be careful what you say," replies Golay. "All they are after is mail fraud."
Rutterschmidt, referring to their claim as next of kin: "I was the cousin, you were the fiancée. Baloney."
Prosecutors say they're not seeking the death penalty but they don't want jurors to be lenient simply because these women are in their 70s.
Each defendant faces two counts of murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder for financial gain. If convicted on all counts each defendant faces life without the possibility of parole.
Defense attorney Diamond says he has a defense of what he calls a "dynamite nature." What that he is, he won't disclose. He says we'll find out about it in the courtroom. This trial is expected to last for one month.
Eyewitness News Reporter Lisa Hernandez contributed to this report.