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Wife of slain Olympian pleads not guilty

February 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The widow of Olympic shot-put medalist Dave Laut pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder Tuesday in the athlete's shooting death.Jane Laut, 52, entered her plea in Ventura County Superior Court shortly after being charged. She's accused of shooting her husband to death in the backyard of their Oxnard home on Aug. 27.

Dave Laut won a bronze medal fore shot put in the 1984 Olympic Games. He was also a track coach and athletic director at Hueneme High School in Oxnard. Dave Laut and his wife were married for early 30 years.

After a nearly six-month investigation into the killing, police arrested Jane Laut on Saturday.

She initially told investigators that her husband was gunned down by a prowler when he went to check noises they heard in their back yard. But she later recanted her story, telling investigators she pulled the trigger in self-defense.

Jane Laut's attorney Ron Bamieh said Dave Laut was drunk with a gun on the night of his death and that he had threatened to kill her along with their 10-year-old son and their dog.

When Dave Laut stumbled in their yard, Jane Laut seized the handgun he was carrying and shot him before he could wrestle the gun away from her, Bamieh said.

Jane Laut claims her husband abused her for years. She said she suffered multiple injuries during the struggle with the former Olympian the night she shot him repeatedly. Bamieh said when the evidence of the case unfolds it will show a battered woman protecting herself and her son.

"I say that if there was a place in Vegas to bet this, I would wager heavily that the prosecutor will be asking for a voluntary manslaughter conviction at the end of the people's case, at the end of the trial," said Bamieh. "The case is clearly a case of self-defense. There's a long history of domestic violence in the Laut relationship; it went on for 29 years."

But prosecutors rejected those claims.

"I'm not going to go into the facts but you can infer by the fact that we filed murder charges after a very careful investigation that we believe based on totality of the circumstances that self-defense is not a liable defense in this case," said prosecutor Bill Haney. "I can tell you this is a very brutal crime. In my opinion this is a first-degree murder case."

If convicted, Jane Laut faces a sentence of life in prison. She is being held on $3 million bail. Her attorney has asked for a reduction in bail, which will be considered during a hearing on Thursday. A preliminary hearing was set for early March.