SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A note scrawled by a prison guard minutes before her death was the clue that led to her killer, Orange County prosecutors said at the trial of her husband, who is charged with arranging the killing.
Elizabeth Begaren scribbled down the license plate number of a car that followed her onto an Anaheim freeway on-ramp in 1998, jurors were told Wednesday during opening statements in Superior Court.
Her husband, Nuzzio Begaren, was driving the family sport utility vehicle. He pulled over and a gang member got out of the other car and shot her, prosecutors contended.
Police found a torn-up piece of paper in the dirt by the side of the freeway and reassembled it. On it, Elizabeth Begaren had scribbled the words "light blue" and the plate number, prosecutor Larry Yellin said.
That led investigators to a Buick Regal driven by gang member Guillermo Espinoza, authorities said.
Fellow gang member Jose Sandoval will testify that he saw the woman get out of the family's Kia Sportage and try to run up the freeway before Espinoza shot her twice, the prosecutor told jurors.
Espinoza and Sandoval are also charged with murder, Sandoval has cooperated with prosecutors, and Espinoza remains at large. A $60,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest.
Another gang member, Rudy Duran, will testify that Begaren's husband was a longtime acquaintance who arranged to have his wife of five months killed and insisted that it should look like a robbery, the prosecutor told jurors.
Authorities contend that Nuzzio Begaren, 50, wanted to collect on a $1 million life insurance policy that he took out shortly after their marriage. He is charged with conspiracy and murder with special circumstances. He could face life in prison without possibility of parole if convicted.
Duran has not been charged in the case.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Sal Ciulla said Duran was pressured into falsely incriminating Begaren in order to avoid a long prison term.
Police told Duran that if he corroborated evidence against Begaren, "he would become a witness instead of a defendant," the lawyer said. "He made the obvious choice."
Information from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com