Jury finds Rudd guilty of wife's 1973 slaying
Jurors deliberated for less than three hours Monday before finding Donnie Rudd guilty of first-degree murder for killing his newlywed wife 45 years ago then staging a car crash to cover up the slaying.
The 76-year-old disbarred suburban attorney and former Schaumburg school board member had no visible reaction to the decision. He now faces a minimum of 14 years of prison when sentenced for the Sept. 14, 1973 killing of 19-year-old Noreen Kumeta. A judge revoked his bond and he was taken into custody to await sentencing.
Kumeta's sisters, Donna Haggerton and Karen Mezera, said after the verdict Monday that they began to believe Rudd played a role in her death about 25 years ago.
"We feel like our sister can finally rest in peace after 45 years," Haggerton said. "She went to the grave with a terrible secret."
Mezera said Rudd stayed in touch with her family for many years after her sister's death, and he even attended her wedding. For most of that time, the sisters thought of him as a grieving widower.
"I've said many times I can't even wrap my head around it," Mezera said. "There was no reason to suspect anything."
She thanked Stephanie Tabak -- who has long suspected Rudd is connected to the unsolved 1991 murder of her mother, interior designer Loretta Tabak-Bodtke, in Arlington Heights -- for her work leading to a re-examination of her sister's death.
"I think she had everything to do with that," Mezera said, while also crediting Arlington Heights police and Cook County prosecutors.
Tabak said she'll never give up on seeing charges brought against Rudd in her mother's case, but feels some vindication through Monday's verdict.
"I've been hoping and praying for 27 years to see justice in my mother's case," Tabak said. "It gives me satisfaction just to know he's going to prison."
Saying the verdict had to be endured for now, defense attorney Tim Grace vowed to appeal.
"The state put together a circumstantial case," he said. "I don't think that there was enough evidence to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but you know what, this is the way the system works. And if 12 people, 12 citizens, come together and say that's he's guilty, I suppose we have to accept it. We don't have to like it, but we have to accept it."
The jury reached its verdict after hearing closing arguments Monday morning from Cook County prosecutors who said Rudd married and murdered Kumeta to collect insurance money and improve the life he was living with another woman and her children.
Defense attorneys said Arlington Heights police and Cook County prosecutors influenced the recollections of witnesses who initially signed off on Kumeta's death as an accident after she was found in a car along Bateman and Dundee roads in Barrington Township.
"Poor, poor Donnie Rudd," Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Maria McCarthy said in response to the defense argument. "Apparently everyone is out to get him. Including my partner and I, because there isn't enough crime in Cook County."
McCarthy said the four maximum-term life-insurance policies Kumeta took out from Quaker Oats, where both she and her husband worked, were suspicious for a 19-year-old. After a whirlwind romance and marriage, she named Rudd the beneficiary of all four, making him eligible to collect $120,000 when she died 27 days after their wedding.
She dismissed defense arguments that Kumeta's actions were influenced by her high school boyfriend's death in a vehicle accident.
"Do not leave your common sense at the door of that deliberation room," McCarthy said. "Noreen would have signed any legal document the defendant put in front of her because she trusted him."
Grace reminded jurors that the emergency-room doctor who saw Kumeta at the time of her death reported it as accidental. A coroner's inquest reached the same conclusion six weeks later. Those findings were treated as fact for 40 years until Arlington Heights police exhumed Kumeta's body, he said.
An autopsy concluded Kumeta died from blunt force trauma to the head, but a defense expert testified it appeared to be a spinal injury.
"They're asking you to believe things that are completely skeptical," Grace told the jury. "You're the safety valve of the whole system."
Grace described prosecutors' evidence as "massaged" by conspiracy theories, and their witnesses as influenced or "hired guns." That included one of Rudd's stepdaughters, who the defense accused of having a financial interest in selling a scathing book she'd written about her life with him.
"This case is brimming over with reasonable doubt," Grace added.
While Rudd has admitted he was in a relationship with another woman when he married Kumeta, Grace said that doesn't make him a murderer.
McCarthy asked jurors to look at the entire picture of Rudd's life.
"Noreen died in a sleepy town. No one suspected anything," she said of officials' early assessment of what killed her. "This was a coldblooded crime. Noreen was no more than a dispensable object to the defendant. This defendant had no right to put a price on Noreen's head."