SAN DIEGO – The trial of a former toxicologist accused of poisoning her husband began Tuesday with prosecutors using a series of passionate e-mails and a glass drug pipe to illustrate the twin obsessions they claim led her to commit murder: a torrid office affair and an addiction to methamphetamine.
Kristin Rossum, 25, is accused of murdering Greg de Villers, 26, with a drug 100 times more powerful than heroin and sprinkling his body with red rose petals in a faked suicide scene that was reminiscent of her favorite film, “American Beauty.”
Rossum gave her husband the fatal dose of fentanyl on Nov. 6, 2000, after he threatened to reveal her drug use and her affair with her superior at the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, prosecutor Dan Goldstein said.
“She believed the only way to protect herself was to kill her husband,” Goldstein said.
However, defense lawyer Alex Loebig said Rossum’s drug use has been exaggerated and that her affair was no secret. He contended that de Villers took his own life because he was upset over his unraveling marriage.
“Almost any suicide is a surprise,” Loebig said in his opening statement before a packed courtroom. “Who could have known, outside Kristin, how unhappy he was?”
Rossum will give jurors the inside story of her marriage later in the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.
Prosecutors showed the 12 jurors a series of e-mails retrieved from Rossum’s computer that chronicled the affair with her married boss, Michael Robertson, that consumed her life.
In one message Rossum tells her boss, “When I see you ... I see my future.”
Robertson, who has returned to his native Australia, has not been charged and will not testify, Goldstein said, but will be a key figure in the trial.
The prosecutor painted for jurors a portrait of a defendant who, as a daughter of a former Reagan Justice Department official, was born into a life of wealth and privilege.
“She was affable, affluent, articulate and built to succeed,” Goldstein said. But Rossum also developed a secret addiction to the stimulant methamphetamine, which wreaked havoc on her life even as she tried to conceal it to protect her image.
“Image was everything to her,” Goldstein said.
During Tuesday’s opening statement, Rossum at times became tearful. She intensely scribbled notes to her attorney. When Goldstein told jurors she had used a variety of drugs throughout her life, Rossum held up a note to her attorney that read: “I never used crack ever.”
After she met de Villers in late 1994, Rossum cleaned up her act. They married in 1999 and she landed a job at the medical examiner’s office, which failed to run a background check on her, Goldstein said. Such a check might have shown her history of drug use and a suicide attempt, he said.
The following year Rossum began having a series of romances with her co-workers. None of them were as serious as her romance with Robertson.
“It went from a fling to a motive within months,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein suggested Rossum had carefully staged the crime scene in the couple’s apartment, leaving a shredded love note, a journal filled with lies, and the rose petals — all to mislead authorities.
“She was out of control. She was using dangerous drugs. She was having an affair that had reached an apocalypse,” he said.
Prosecutors contend Rossum stole the fentanyl used to kill de Villers from a locker at her office. But Loebig said it would be illogical for her to have chosen fentanyl because she knew investigators would find the drug in his blood.
Rossum was fired in December 2000 because of her drug use. Robertson also lost his job for failing to report the problem.
Rossum was arrested in June 2001. The special circumstance charge of poisoning made her eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors said they would instead seek a sentence of life in prison without chance for parole if she is convicted.
Rossum was released on $1.25 million bond in January.
Testimony began Tuesday with prosecutors calling to the stand the first paramedic to arrive at the couple’s apartment after Rossum called 911 to report de Villers was not breathing.
Superior Court Judge John Thompson has issued a gag order, preventing anyone connected to the case from speaking publicly about it. He also has banned cameras from the courtroom.