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Life or death for Moonda? Jurors will decide



Published: Sat, July 7, 2007 @ 12:00 a.m.

She could become only the third woman on federal death row.

STAFF AND WIRE REPORT

AKRON — A pile of crumpled tissue lay on the defense table — not enough to dry the tears of the Pennsylvania woman who plotted her husband’s murder, then coldly watched her younger lover gun down the wealthy doctor on the side of the Ohio Turnpike.

Eyes and face red from sobbing after the guilty verdicts were read, Donna Moonda complained to her attorneys then left the courtroom in handcuffs, her head hung low.

She faces the possibility of becoming just the third woman on federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind.

A federal jury on Friday convicted the 48-year-old former nurse of masterminding the murder-for-hire plot by offering drug dealer Damian Bradford a share of Dr. Gulam Moonda’s multimillion-dollar estate if he carried out the killing.

Both sides

Prosecutors said she was tired of her marriage to the 69-year-old doctor, a man more than 20 years her senior whom she had started dating at age 18. But she was still in love with his money — and with Bradford, who quickly turned on her after authorities charged him in the death.

“She wanted to get what was owed to her,” Bradford said on the witness stand.

The defense had argued that the 26-year-old Bradford acted alone and that Moonda tried to revive her doctor husband after Bradford shot him along the turnpike. Federal prosecutors said the two were in it together and portrayed Moonda as a perpetual liar, thief and drug user.

Bradford, the key witness, has admitted to shooting the doctor in the side of the head on May 13, 2005, after his wife pulled over on the turnpike south of Cleveland, supposedly to let her husband take the wheel.

The jury of seven women and five men also convicted Moonda of interstate stalking and two counts of using or carrying a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

Sentencing still to come

Jurors will return to federal court July 16 to determine whether she is sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

“We think there’s a number of compelling reasons we’ll present of why the death penalty is not appropriate,” said attorney David Grant, who will represent Moonda at the hearing.

As U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. read the four guilty verdicts Friday, Moonda went from holding back tears, to shaking her head to quietly sobbing, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

“Donna is disappointed by the verdict, I think a little bit shocked,” defense attorney Roger Synenberg said outside the courthouse.

Jurors deliberated about eight hours over two days after more than two weeks of testimony.

“We are very gratified by the verdict today,” assistant U.S. attorney Linda Barr said.

Prosecutors contend that Moonda tried to steer investigators away from her lover during the investigation. She told them the shooter was about her husband’s height, 5 foot, 4 inches tall — Bradford stands 5 foot, 10 inches tall — and he was driving a minivan.

Bradford told jurors he was driving a silver Chevrolet Trailblazer that Donna Moonda bought him.

Moonda’s defense was that Bradford, a convicted drug dealer she’d met in drug rehab, robbed and killed the doctor in a steroid-fueled rage.

Synenberg told jurors that if they believed Bradford, then his client came up with the worst plan to murder a husband. The defense attorney contended that if Moonda were involved she would not have brought her elderly mother on the trip and that spouses generally don’t put themselves at murder scenes.

Bradford, of Beaver County, Pa., has pleaded guilty to interstate stalking and a gun charge and is expected to receive a 171⁄2-year sentence in exchange for his cooperation with investigators.

He testified that, on the day of the shooting, he met Donna Moonda near New Castle at noon and she gave him directions for the family trip to Toledo. He later followed the Moondas and her mother as they left their home in Hermitage, Pa., near the Ohio state line and pulled in behind them when Donna Moonda stopped their Jaguar. He said he ran to the passenger side of the car and shot the doctor.

Other key evidence cited by prosecutors were a series of phone calls and text messages between Bradford and Moonda the day of the killing

The plot the day of the shooting was set off when Moonda sent a text message that said, “I’m getting some water,” Bradford testified.

The defense contended that Moonda could have received $1.3 million to $1.5 million in a divorce settlement. But prosecutors said she didn’t know that and believed she would have been limited to $250,000 by a prenuptial agreement.

The doctor, worth more than $3 million, also had life insurance policies totaling $676,000.


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