‘Black widow’ murderer free after 20 years

Ken Ritter
Associated Press

North Las Vegas, Nev. — One of Nevada’s most notorious convicted murderers was released from prison Friday, more than 25 years after her millionaire husband’s burned body was found outside Las Vegas.

Margaret Rudin, 76, a socialite antiques shop owner dubbed the “black widow” while she was a fugitive ahead of her 2001 trial, left a women’s prison after winning parole from her 20-years-to-life sentence for the killing of real estate mogul Ron Rudin.

Her release came 20 years after a tip generated by a “most wanted” TV show led to her arrest in Massachusetts where she was living with a retired firefighter she had met in Mexico.

In this Feb. 22, 2001 file photo, Margaret Rudin, left, with her attorney Michael Amador, attends a hearing in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas.

Rudin was met by a juror-turned-supporter Corrine Kovacs, who was the last holdout before voting to convict her, and lawyer Greg Mullanax. He is asking a federal judge to order a new trial to clear Rudin of the conviction that will otherwise keep her on parole for the rest of her life.

Rudin did not speak with reporters, but Mullanax said in a prepared statement: “This is a happy day for Margaret Rudin and her family.”

He added: “But the joy of being released from prison is tempered by the fact that Margaret Rudin is innocent and she did not murder her husband, Ron Rudin.”

Rudin’s murder trial made headlines in an era of sensational televised trials following the 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson in the killings of his wife and her friend in Los Angeles and the first trial in the 1998 death of Las Vegas casino heir Ted Binion.

Her case was tried before the same judge who presided when former stripper Sandy Murphy and her lover, Rick Tabish, were convicted in 2000 and acquitted in 2004 of murdering the 55-year-old Binion, who prosecutors said was drugged and suffocated in a plot to steal his fortune of buried silver.

In Rudin’s case, intrigue and plot twists began when Ron Rudin, a 64-year-old prominent Las Vegas real estate developer, disappeared in December 1994.

Fishermen stumbled across his skull and some charred bones a month later near the shoreline of a Colorado River reservoir about 45 miles (72 kilometers) outside Las Vegas. Prosecutors said he had been shot in the head as he slept and that his body was hauled in a trunk to the desert and burned. A distinctive jeweled bracelet with the name “Ron” was found at the scene.

Ron and Margaret Rudin had been married for seven years – the fifth marriage for each. Police said he was shot several times with a .22-caliber gun with a silencer that Ron Rudin reported missing in 1988.

Beneficiaries revealed that Ron Rudin amended his trust in 1991 with a directive to investigate his death if it was by violent means and cutting anyone responsible out of his will.

Margaret Rudin tried to obtain a $6 million share of her husband’s $11 million fortune, police and prosecutors said, but settled with trustees of his estate for about $500,000 after they sued her in 1996 to try to prove she played a role in his death.

She became a fugitive after police said a diver found the murder weapon in 1996 at the bottom of Lake Mead. She was indicted in 1997 on murder, accessory to murder and unlawful use of a listening device charges. Prosecutors said she tapped her husband’s phones when she suspected he was having an affair.

Authorities said Rudin changed her name and her appearance, and slipped through the hands of Phoenix police in September 1998 before her arrest in November 1999 in Revere, Massachusetts. The retired firefighter she lived with for a year said the two met while living among American retirees in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Her trial featured Rudin’s sister testifying against her but was most remembered for the struggles of defense attorney Michael Amador, who provided such a rambling opening argument for jurors that Rudin asked for a mistrial.

Veteran Judge Joseph Bonaventure refused, but effectively replaced Amador during the trial by appointing two respected defense lawyers to assist him. The judge also provided defense investigators to complete unfinished preparation.

Amador didn’t respond Thursday to messages about Rudin’s case.

Amador had said was defending Rudin for free, but Rudin said Amador improperly tried to secure media rights to her story and Amador’s secretary testified that she saw movie rights and book deal contracts. Two Nevada Supreme Court justices noted that Amador invited TV crews to interview Rudin at his office when she arrived to prepare for trial.

Several lawyers argued on appeals that the trial was so flawed that Rudin deserved another. A state court judge in 2008 agreed, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that decision. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2015 ordered a new look at Rudin’s conviction.

Last year, the Nevada Department of Corrections agreed not to oppose Rudin’s parole to settle her federal court civil rights complaints of mistreatment, misconduct and sexism in prison programs for aging inmates.