A Riverside jury on Thursday recommended the death penalty for a Moreno Valley woman who fatally shot her 56-year-old husband to collect more than $1 million in life insurance proceeds.
Jurors deliberated two days before reaching a unanimous decision as to the fate of Lorraine Alison Hunter, 61.
The same panel last month convicted her of first-degree murder and found true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and killing for financial gain in the 2009 execution-style slaying of Albert Thomas.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher is expected to follow the jury’s recommendation when he sentences Hunter on Dec. 8 at the Riverside Hall of Justice. She’s being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center.
The penalty phase of the defendant’s trial lasted roughly two weeks and was preceded by the evidentiary phase, which culminated in guilty verdicts on Aug. 21.
The prosecution’s key witness was Hunter’s now-23-year-old daughter, Briuana Lashanae Hunter, who confessed to plotting with her mother to kill Thomas.
Briauana Hunter pleaded guilty last year to three counts of attempted murder and one count of voluntary manslaughter. She’s slated to be sentenced to 18 years in state prison on Sept. 25.
The young woman, who’s being held without bail at the Indio Jail, testified that her stepfather was a “calm, quiet person,” who was “never overly aggressive” in the seven years that she and her mother lived with him in Moreno Valley.
Briauana Hunter stated that he held down two jobs — one as a short-haul trucker and another as a clerk at a Moreno Valley Auto Zone.
The witness said her mother frequently argued with Thomas about not having enough money to spend. According to Deputy District Attorney Will Robinson’s trial brief, the elder Hunter was “money hungry” and not interested in holding down a job to contribute to the household.
Briauana Hunter said she aided her mother in filling out at least three life insurance applications, naming her stepfather as the insured party and Lorraine Hunter as the principal beneficiary. The woman forged Thomas’ name on each application.
Hunter took out a $750,000 policy, as well as a $10,000 policy, Robinson said. Thomas additionally had a $450,000 policy through the trucking company for which he worked, according to court papers.
In the two months before he was gunned down, Lorraine Hunter attempted to shoot Thomas three times — twice on walks through their neighborhood in the area of Day Street and Eucalyptus Avenue, and another time outside the victim’s workplace. Briuana Hunter admitted being present on each occasion.
On the evening of Nov. 3, 2009, Thomas and the defendants left their apartment and strolled to his big rig, where he wanted to grab a sweatshirt that he had bought for his then-15-year-old stepdaughter, according to trial testimony.
The three of them climbed into his truck, and Thomas ducked into the rear sleeper compartment to find the shirt, while Hunter and her daughter sat in the front seat.
Robinson said Lorraine Hunter pulled a small-caliber handgun she’d stolen from a member of her church and shot the victim point-blank in the back of the head twice, then shot him twice in the upper back as he knelt in the compartment. He died in a kneeling position.
Hunter and her daughter fled the scene with the help of a relative, and the case went cold for two years, until the same relative confessed everything she knew to investigators after being arrested herself for an unrelated offense.