Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marriage, Money and Murder: Steven and Celeste Beard

Life on Trial

Celeste's trial was like a nightmare variation on "This Is Your Life."

"She couldn't stand Steve Beard," prosecutor Allison Weitzel told jurors. "She talked to people about how she hated him. He disgusted her...What happened here is a simple case of a greedy, manipulative defendant who took advantage of a mentally ill woman who was in love with her. She told Tracey that with Steve gone, they could be together."

Tarlton, appearing sullen, took the witness stand for a total of 15 hours over three days. She guided jurors through the affair and the murder scheme. (She had pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in exchange for a 20-year sentence.)

"I just saw this woman that I loved in a desperate situation trying to find a way to survive this man that was so awful," Tarlton said. "She had a plan. She wanted me to shoot him at Toro Canyon with my shotgun. I was willing to shoot him, and I went and did it."

She added that she and Steven Beard had been "betrayed by the same woman."

Relatives, friends, shrinks and Tarlton's colleagues from work all testified that they believed the women had a sexual relationship. Prosecutors added photographs, love notes, cards and Tarlton's journal as further documentary proof.

Yet Dick DeGuerin, Celeste's prominentand expensivecriminal defense attorney, dismissed this mountain of evidence as part of a fantasy of a "predatory, aggressive lesbian." The defense strategy boiled down to three words: Tracey is crazy.

"This is a case of fatal attraction," said DeGuerin. "Tracey Tarlton is psychotic. She's been diagnosed as having delusions, as hearing voices that aren't there, as seeing things that aren't there."

Dominic Dunne's Power, Priviledge and Justice

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