Monday, September 25, 2006

Murder of Moonda in Mercer

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, in an article by Milan Simonich published last Tuesday, September 19, 2006, about an application of Pennsylvania's "Slayer's Act" in a case alleging murder by a spouse.

The Slayer's Act provisions of the Pennsylvania Probate, Estates & Fiduciaries Code, Chapter 88, found online
here, mandate that: "No slayer shall in any way acquire any property or receive any benefit as the result of the death of the decedent. . . ." These provisions carry out a policy of the Commonwealth "that no person shall be allowed to profit by his own wrong, wherever committed."

Pennsylvania is one of many states that codified and clarified the common law "Slayer's Rule" developed by courts.
Wikopedia, the free online encyclopedia, generally describes the common law "Slayer's Rule" doctrine in the United States as follows:

[It prohibits] inheritance by a person who murders someone from whom they stand to inherit. The effect of the slaying was that the slayer would be treated as though they had died before the person who had been murdered. The wrongful killing need only be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. If the slayer were later convicted of the murder, that would conclusively divest them of their interest; but if the slayer were acquitted of the murder, the court could still weigh the evidence and determine that they should be divested.
In the reported case, access to marital assets by a slain urologist's wife is blocked during the criminal prosecution of the murder case against her in Mercer County, PA.
Donna Moonda, charged with hiring a gunman to murder her husband, has been blocked from obtaining almost $1.8 million in joint marital assets.

Estate lawyers for the late Dr. Gulam Moonda used a Pennsylvania law called the Slayer's Act to stop her from accessing money from six brokerage accounts the couple held together.

"Had she made a move for that money, we would have gotten an injunction or stay to prevent it," said Pittsburgh attorney John Quinn, who was hired by executors of Dr. Moonda's will to invoke the Slayer's Act. The law prohibits a person from profiting from the unlawful taking of another's life.

Mrs. Moonda, 47, is accused of arranging her 69-year-old husband's death so she could collect millions in inheritance, life insurance proceeds, real estate holdings and investment accounts. A premarital contract would have limited her to a $250,000 settlement had she filed for divorce.

Damian Bradford, 25, who was having an affair with Mrs. Moonda, has admitted he killed the doctor with a bullet to the face after tailing him on the Ohio Turnpike the evening of May 13, 2005.

Mr. Bradford said he acted at the behest of Mrs. Moonda, who promised him half the money she expected to collect from her husband's death. He said he thought he would receive a seven-figure payday for killing the doctor, a urologist who practiced in Mercer County for 35 years. * * *

Through her lawyers, Mrs. Moonda says she is innocent and looks forward to her day in court.

By its provisions, Pennsylvania's Slayer's Act is applied broadly, and covers all types of property interests -- descent rights & testamentary bequests; survivorship property, reversions & remainders, powers of appointment, and insurance proceeds.

In this case, the article further reported the breadth of affected assets and interests:
Dr. Moonda's inheritance tax return showed assets of about $3.5 million. Of that, the couple had $1.79 million in joint investment accounts.

The largest of the accounts was worth $630,000 at the time of Dr. Moonda's death. Two others were worth about $400,000 each. The others were for $224,000, $110,000 and $26,000.

Donna Moonda could have tried to claim the money but decided not to. "She knew if she did, we would have stopped her," Mr. Quinn said.

Dr. Moonda's tax return shows that he left another $1.2 million in real estate holdings. * * *

He had corporate ownership holdings of $239,000, and the couple had other joint property holdings of $205,000. Another $37,000 of his assets were in cash and miscellaneous personal property.

On top of this, he left $667,000 in life insurance proceeds. The insurance is not mentioned in the tax return. Because of the murder charge against Mrs. Moonda, she has not collected on the policies.

The article concludes with the possible outcomes:
If Mrs. Moonda is convicted of murder for hire or accessory charges, the Slayer's Act would preclude her from receiving all but a small fraction of the joint holdings or what was willed to her, Mr. Quinn said. The bulk of the money would be returned to the estate for redistribution to the heirs.

If she is acquitted, she would not necessarily receive the money, either, Mr. Quinn said. A civil lawsuit still could be brought under the Slayer's Act to try to stop her from collecting.
The full article can be found online

Update: 10/18/06:

See the article "Moonda Widow Wants 3rd Lawyer -- Suspect Faces Death Penalty for Ohio Turnpike Murder", published Tuesday, October 17, 2006 , by Milan Simonich, in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, found online here:
AKRON, Ohio -- Murder suspect Donna Moonda yesterday asked a judge to provide her with a third lawyer paid for by the public. Because Mrs. Moonda could be put to death if she is convicted of arranging her husband's shooting death on the Ohio Turnpike, she already is assured of receiving two lawyers at taxpayer expense. U.S. District Judge David Dowd said he would rule soon on her request, weighing whether a third defense attorney is necessary for her to get a fair trial. Federal prosecutors called her request excessive.
Update: 12/09/06:

For an update on the criminal proceeding on the charges against Donna Moonda, see the article Donna Moonda to stand trial in June in husband's killing, published by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, on December 9, 2006.

Update: 12/23/06:

For a discussion about problems in the dispostion of life insurance proceeds in this case, see the article "What Will Happen To Dr. Gulam Moonda's Money? --Northwestern Mutual Wants Out Of Controversy", posted on December 21, 2006, by WPXI Channel 11 TV (Pittsburgh, PA), which introduces the controversy as follows:
Prosecutors believe Dr. Gulam Moonda's wife planned his murder so she and her lover could get his money.But who will end up with it if she is convicted in the case? * * *

Prosecutors said Donna Moonda wanted her husband dead so she could collect on his multimillion-dollar estate and life insurance policies.

Even though she is the beneficiary of those policies, the insurance company hasn't paid out. Now it wants to wash its hands of the whole thing.
Update: 02/18/07:

The case progresses. See: "Firm asks court to take control of Moonda estate", by Milan Simonic, published February 17, 2007, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The investment firm Merrill Lynch wants a federal court based in Pittsburgh to take control of more than $2 million that the late Dr. Gulam Moonda held in five accounts.

One of the accounts was jointly owned by Dr. Moonda and his wife, Donna, who is charged with his murder.

The other four were individual retirement accounts for which Dr. Moonda listed no beneficiary.

Merrill Lynch, in a civil lawsuit filed yesterday, said it "seeks guidance" from U.S. District Court as to what should be done with the money.

Mrs. Moonda, at least for now, cannot claim any of it. A Pennsylvania law known as the Slayer's Act prevents a person charged with murder from profiting from the crime. * * *