SAN DIEGO — An accusation that a respected lab toxicologist intentionally poisoned her husband has shocked former colleagues who recall her as a meticulous scientist with a sweet disposition.
“It just doesn’t fit,” said Richard Hogrefe, the president of TriLink Biotechnologies, where Kristin Rossum worked until her arrest. “We don’t believe it.”
Prosecutors have charged Rossum, 24, with murder for the death of her husband, who was found dead in his bed, rose petals scattered around him. The scene was reminiscent of the film “American Beauty,” and police said that was her favorite film.
One of Rossum’s lawyers, however, said the film wasn’t a favorite of hers, but of her husbands. They also argue that Rossum lacked the motivation or the personality to kill Greg de Villers last November.
“Anyone who meets her loves her,” attorney Gretchen von Helms said Thursday. “She’s just a sweet, genuine person.”
Rossum intends to plead innocent at her arraignment Monday, von Helms said.
The case has sparked interest because of the macabre details and the unlikely principals — two successful young people with accomplished parents and bright prospects.
Prosecutors allege Rossum stole a powerful painkiller from the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office, where she worked at the time of de Villers’ death in November. She allegedly administered a fatal dose to him, possibly with other drugs, then scattered the rose petals on the body. But that sounds unlikely to Dale Chatfield, Rossum’s chemistry professor who worked in a university lab with her for six hours a week for one semester in 1999 and doubts that his former student would commit murder, then incriminate herself by sprinkling flower petals on the body.
“She’s a very bright, meticulous young lady,” Chatfield said. “She’s not a person to do things that are sloppy and out of place.”
Rossum told authorities that her husband committed suicide, though his family, police and prosecutors rejected that possibility.
“My son couldn’t have killed himself,” his father, Dr. Yves de Villers, said by telephone from his home in Monaco.
His brother, Jerome, told the Los Angeles Times that before their 1999 marriage, de Villers worried that Rossum had a drug problem but felt he could rescue her.
“They were in love for some time and then something happened,” he told the paper. “I don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. But I hope by questioning her, the truth will come out.”
Investigators have pointed to an affair that Rossum was having with her boss at the medical examiner’s office, Michael D. Roberston, who police say is a suspect in the case and is believed to have returned to his native Australia.
But Rossum’s lawyer, who acknowledges the affair, said it suggests a likely motivation for de Villers’ suicide, not murder. Rossum had no insurance claim or anything else to gain by his death, von Helms said.
Rossum and de Villers met as they were starting college in San Diego. They became serious but her parents, both professors, insisted they not marry until after graduation, she said.
In 1999, Rossum graduated with highest honors in biochemistry from San Diego State University and the couple wed soon after.
De Villers went to work at a biotech firm; Rossum worked at the medical examiner’s office, where authorities said she used methamphetamine and became involved with Robertson, a nationally known expert on toxicology.
About a month after de Villers’ Nov. 6th death, both Rossum and Robertson were fired from the medical examiner’s office. In February, she joined TriLink as an assistant chemist.
At the biotech firm, she volunteered for extra work, joined the softball team and was well-liked by other employees at the small company, Hogrefe said. Her arrest Monday came as a shock.
“She’s a star here. She’d only been here four months but she was going places,” he said.