Mar 29, 2002
Beverly Monroe's Conviction RejectedBY ALAN COOPER
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
A federal judge yesterday set aside the murder conviction of Beverly Anne Monroe in the March 1992 death of her lover, Roger de la Burde, in Powhatan County.
Monroe, now 63, has served almost seven years of the 22-year term recommended by a Powhatan Circuit Court jury in November 1992. She was free on bond for almost three years while her conviction for first-degree murder was on appeal in state court.
De la Burde, who was 60, was a millionaire land speculator and art collector who claimed to be a French count. He and Monroe had been lovers for 11 years.
His body was found on a sofa in his home with a gun nearby. He had been shot once in the forehead. Much of the trial focused on whether de la Burde's death was suicide or murder.
After Senior U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams made his ruling yesterday, a spokesman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said Kilgore would appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Monroe's attorney, Stephen A. Northup, was elated at Williams' decision.
"We're delighted that Judge Williams has ordered relief," Northup said. "His opinion vindicates our position that she was unjustly convicted. It would be great if the result of this was quick release from prison."
Williams said the prosecution failed to disclose several matters to Monroe's trial attorneys that they could have used in her defense. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that prosecutors must turn over such evidence.
The judge said prosecutors did not tell the defense the identity of witnesses who saw a sport utility vehicle leave de la Burde's farm at about the time of the shooting.
The prosecution also did not disclose material differences between the testimony of two secretaries who witnessed an interview of Monroe by state police Special Agent David M. Riley, and differences in statements that the secretaries wrote shortly after the interview.
And the prosecution did not fully disclose information that would have undercut the credibility of a witness who identified Monroe as the "Mrs. Nelson" who asked her to get an untraceable pistol for her a few months before de la Burde's death. Prosecutors argued that the purchase showed that Monroe was thinking about killing de la Burde.
Williams said defense attorneys should have been told that the witness hoped to have a charge dismissed or a sentence reduced, and that she had a history of testifying on behalf of the prosecution to get out of her own criminal problems.
"Given the net effect of all that was not disclosed, there is a reasonable probability that the result would have been different," he concluded. "The case against Monroe was not overwhelming."
In setting aside the conviction, Williams overruled a recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Judge David G. Lowe, who upheld the conviction last year after a hearing in December 2000.
Lowe concluded that forensic evidence presented at trial showed conclusively that de la Burde was murdered.
Williams rejected that conclusion. "The physical evidence necessary to show whether [de la Burde's] death was a murder or a suicide was . . . either tainted or lost."
Judges Lowe and Williams agreed that defense attorney Murray J. Janus had not been ineffective in failing to challenge the voluntariness of three statements Monroe made to Riley, the state police agent.
But Williams questioned their reliability because "the tactics engaged in by Riley were deceitful, manipulative and inappropriate."
Monroe at first said she had left de la Burde's home about an hour before his death. However, a polygraph test showed that she was being deceptive when she said she did not kill de la Burde and that she was not present when he died.
After she insisted she was telling the truth, Riley suggested that perhaps the event was so traumatic that she had blocked it out. Monroe then said she recalled that she and de la Burde had fallen asleep on separate sofas and she was awakened by the sound of the shot.
Prosecutors Jack Lewis, who has since retired as Powhatan commonwealth's attorney, and Warren B. Von Schuch, deputy commonwealth's attorney in Chesterfield County, argued that de la Burde's relationship with Krystyna Drewnowska was a motive for Monroe to kill him.
De la Burde wanted a male heir, and Drewnowska was pregnant with his child at the time of his death. The child is a girl.
Monroe told Riley she
had reconciled herself to de la Burde's womanizing and his relationship
with Drewnowska. She said she and de la Burde planned to marry and that
he would support the child financially.
Contact Alan Cooper at (804) 649-6649 or firstname.lastname@example.org
to visit Beverly's website.