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.
RIVERSIDE – A jury was seated today for the trial of a Riverside nurse accused of robbing and killing her 66-year-old roommate – also a nurse – in an ambush during which the victim was hacked to death with a machete. Ruthetta Lois Hopson, 39, could face 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 October 2011 slaying of Laverna Sue Brown. After nearly two days of screening, an eight-woman, six-man panel — including two backup jurors — was selected to hear evidence in what’s expected to be about a six-day trial. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Prevost scheduled opening statements for Monday. Hopson is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in downtown Riverside. Her boyfriend and former co-defendant, 30-year-old Julius Patrick Thomas, hanged himself in his jail cell on Dec. 15, 2011, shortly after his arrest. According to investigators, the victim, who had been in the medical profession for decades, met Hopson on the job, and the two ended up sharing a house together on Magnolia Avenue. Investigators allege that Brown was walking into the garage when she was attacked. The suspected murder weapon, a machete, was later recovered. Thomas allegedly carried out the slaying, but Hopson planned it in order to steal her roommate’s valuables, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Brown was found dead in her parked car on Fremont Street, near Riverside Municipal Airport, on the morning of Oct. 29, 2011. She had been booked on a flight to the east coast to visit members of her family, who reported her missing, leading to a search during which officers located her vehicle and remains.