RIVERSIDE – A Riverside woman accused of taking part in the slaying of her 66-year-old housemate insisted today that she was not an active participant in the grisly crime, which she blamed entirely on her boyfriend, testifying that he threatened her life if she didn’t help him.
”I was very afraid he would follow through on his threat to kill me and my son,” Ruthetta Lois Hopson said. ”After what he did to Laverna, I knew what he was capable of.”
Hopson, 39, took the stand in her own defense following two days of prosecution testimony. She faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder and special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and killing during the course of a robbery in the Oct. 28, 2011, death of Laverna Sue Brown.
The Riverside County Regional Medical Center trauma nurse was beaten, stabbed with a butcher knife and nearly decapitated with a machete.
Hopson pointed the finger of blame at 30-year-old Julius Patrick Thomas, with whom the defendant had been in a relationship since 2008.
Thomas hung himself in his jail cell within days of being arrested in December 2011.
According to Hopson, the Rancho Cucamonga man learned that Brown was preparing to leave for a trip to Georgia to visit family and believed she would be carrying a large amount of cash.
Hopson testified she never discussed robbing or otherwise harming the victim, and only discovered that Brown was dead when Thomas told her to meet him in the garage of the home she shared with her and another woman.
Hopson said she encountered a ”horror scene” when she stepped into the garage. Brown lay dead on the floor with a huge gash in the side of her neck and other injuries.
Hopson said she asked what happened and why, and Brown replied that he believed ”Laverna would have a lot of money on her, and he needed it.”
Hopson said Thomas demanded that she help him dispose of the body and clean up the murder scene or he would ”do the same thing to me.”
Hopson said he also threatened to harm her son, then-19 years old and residing in Norwalk.
According to Hopson, she tried to sanitize the garage and wash away blood and pieces of flesh left on the side of the house, where the body was dragged.
”Julius was watching me all the time,” Hopson said.
Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Michael Kersse told jurors in his opening statement Monday that Hopson was desperate for money and planned the murder, recruiting her boyfriend to carry it out.
Kersse said Hopson was in the process of moving to an apartment nearer her job at Riverside Community Hospital and needed around $1,800 to cover the security deposit.
However, Deputy Public Defender Greg Roach produced bank statements today indicating his client had, at any given time, between $1,500 and $4,000 in her bank account.
Kersse alleged that in the predawn hours of Oct. 28, Hopson and Thomas ambushed Brown as she walked into the garage to go out a side door and get into her van for the drive to Ontario International Airport.
The victim was stabbed and hacked multiple times in the neck with a rusty machete that had been stored with other tools in the garage, Kersse said.
Brown’s body was loaded into her van, which Thomas drove to a public parking lot near Van Buren and Central avenues and abandoned, Kersse alleged.
When the owner of the house discovered the garage in disarray and confronted Hopson about it, the defendant suggested that a homeless person she had seen the previous day could have broken into the space.
Thomas later admitted his part in the murder and took detectives to a flood control channel where he had tossed the blood-streaked machete.