Secretary faces first-degree murder charge in lawyer’s death

The Associated Press
Friday March 22, 2002

STOCKTON — Prosecutors charged a Sacramento student with first-degree murder Thursday for her alleged role in helping a woman poison her husband. 

If convicted of the murder with special circumstances charge, Sarah Elizabeth Dutra, 21, could face the death penalty, a San Joaquin County judge said in court. 

Dutra also was a secretary for lawyer Larry McNabney, who disappeared last September after being seen at a Los Angeles horse show. 

Dutra, who did not enter a plea, may be represented by the same attorney who defended a Sacramento woman convicted of poisoning her elderly tenants. 

Kevin Clymo defended Dorothea Puente, a 61-year-old woman who was sentenced to prison on nine murder counts for poisoning elderly tenants to get their pension and disability benefits. 

Clymo made a special appearance Thursday and will either return to court April 3 with Dutra or decline to take the case. 

Dutra is accused of murder and conspiring to kill the 53-year-old McNabney with an overdose of horse tranquilizer. 

Authorities said Dutra and McNabney’s wife, Laren Renee Sims Jordan, 36, implicated each other this week after Jordan was captured in Florida Monday night following a nationwide hunt. While married to McNabney, Sims Jordan was known as Elisa McNabney. 

San Joaquin County sheriff’s deputies said Dutra, who was class president at Vacaville High School, confessed Tuesday and was jailed on suspicion of murder and conspiracy charges. She is a senior majoring in art studio at California State University, Sacramento. 

“The judge asked her if she understood the charges and she said yes,” said prosecutor Lester Fleming. “Then he informed her that the maximum penalty is death. You don’t often get a completely quiet courtroom, but you could have heard a pin drop.” 

Fleming said District Attorney John Phillip will make the decision to seek the death penalty. If convicted, Dutra also could receive life in prison without parole. 

On Wednesday, a judge gave Sims Jordan the opportunity to waive extradition during a hearing at the Okaloosa County Courthouse in Crestview, Fla., but her court-appointed public defender told her not to sign anything yet, said Rick Hord, an Okaloosa sheriff’s spokesman. 

Nellie Stone, a spokeswoman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, said Thursday that San Joaquin investigators were preparing to request a warrant from Gov. Gray Davis. 

“The governor will do anything within his power to assist the extradition of Laren Sims back to California,” said Byron Tucker, a Davis spokesman. 

While it may take two weeks for San Joaquin prosecutors to file the paperwork, they will do what’s necessary to get Sims Jordan back, Stone said. 

That return could be three to six months away if Jordan fights extradition, Stone said. But a governor’s warrant would speed the process to about 30 days. 

Stone said investigators were on their way to Brooksville, Fla., Thursday to visit Haylei Jordan, Sims Jordan’s 17-year-old daughter to get a statement. 

Sims Jordan is currently being held without bond in Florida’s Okaloosa County Jail on parole-violation charges. 

Sims Jordan spent seven months in Florida prison from 1991 to 1992 for violating probation from a 1989 grand theft and fraud conviction. She’s charged with violating parole by leaving Florida to move to Las Vegas around 1994. 

In an off-camera interview with KCRA-TV Thursday night in Florida, Sims Jordan said she was afraid to leave McNabney because of alleged abuse. 

On Tuesday, Dunn said she gave a three-page written statement that she and Dutra had poisoned McNabney in a hotel in Los Angeles. He died later at their home in Woodbridge and Sims Jordan said she eventually buried his body in a nearby vineyard.