Woman convicted of killing three tenants may be let go from prison

The Associated Press
Wednesday June 05, 2002

SACRAMENTO – A lawyer for a Sacramento landlady convicted of killing three of her tenants and burying them in the backyard claims there is no evidence the deaths were homicides and has asked a federal judge to release her from prison. 

Attorney Marc Zilversmit argued in papers that Dorothea Puente, 72, whose yard and garden yielded seven buried bodies in 1988, should have been prosecuted for fraud or theft, not murder. 

Puente was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with no parole for killing three boarders at her Victorian house in 1987 and 1988. A jury could not resolve six other murder charges against her. 

Puente has said she collected Social Security benefits owed to seven men and women whose deaths she never reported — and tried to hide. 

In addition to the seven victims unearthed from the yard, Puente also was charged with killing a former roommate whose death was originally classified as “undetermined” and a former suitor who was found in a box on a riverbank. 

Zilversmit describes all the “suspected murder victims” as “very old and sick after lifetimes of alcohol and drug abuse,” in papers filed in U.S. District Court. 

Two of the men were in their early to mid-50s, one was 62 and three of the women were in their early 60s. Because of their advanced state of decomposition, coroners were not able to determine a precise cause of death. 

Puente had a criminal record of drugging people to steal from them, and drugs were found in many of the remains excavated from her property