Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larissa Schuster

The defense's case, continued


Having put forth a plausible narrative that absolved his client of the most serious crime, the murder of Tim Schuster, defense attorney Roger Nuttall called a string of witnesses and experts to deflect blame from Larissa Schuster.

The defense took on the prosecution's assertion that Tim's death would be more profitable to Larissa than their impending divorce settlement. Tim Schuster's life insurance policy was only $30,000 and half of their assets were to be put in a family trust to provide for the children. However, Tim's death precluded a divorce fight in which Larissa stood to lose half of their marital estate including the lab business (once valued at $489,000, but sold in 2003 for $225,000) and the home in Clovis (sold in 2004 for $675,000).

A medical expert testified that Tim Schuster's body had been cut in half and only his lower half had been placed in the drum of acid. Nuttall used this line of questioning to imply to the jury that there was another crime scene the police missed altogether and that such undiscovered clues pointed to Fagone (and possibly other associates) as Tim's actual killers. The defense called several character witnesses to portray Larissa Schuster as a good mother and non-violent person and other witnesses would describe Fagone as something of a wildcard who often joked about committing strange criminal activities.

Nuttall also called psychiatrist Stephen Estner, who expounded upon his opinion that Larissa Schuster suffered from battered spouse syndrome caused by Tim's passive-aggressive behavior and by a previous abusive relationship. Estner recalled that in his jailhouse interviews with Larissa she spoke incessantly about how Tim had done her wrong: she expressed unhappiness about their relationship "as if he was still alive." To Estner, this indicated lingering signs of battered spouse syndrome. Estner explained that Larissa Schuster's mental health had worsened in the later years of the marriage, leading her to take anti-depressants. Estner described Tim and Larissa's personalities as diametrically opposite, leading to terrible strain: "My impression was that Mrs. Schuster was a very direct and assertive person, and Mr. Schuster was a more passive and nurturing personality. And I think they started butting heads over that."

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