LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a new look at the murder conviction of a former Las Vegas socialite dubbed the "black widow" during her trial after years as a fugitive in the 1994 death of her millionaire husband.
A technicality shouldn't prevent Margaret Rudin, now 71 and serving 20 years to life in a Nevada state prison, from being able to argue that her trial lawyer botched her case, a panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled.
The 2-1 ruling from the three-judge panel cited "extraordinary circumstances" during the year Rudin should have appealed her 2001 conviction and sentence.
The 10-week trial drew gavel-to-gavel television coverage and featured plot twists, an apparent lack of preparation by the defense, the naming of two other defense attorneys to move the case along, and calls for mistrial that were rejected by the judge.
At sentencing, Clark County District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure wrote off the drama as "constant legal gyrations" by a woman trying to wriggle out of responsibility for her husband's death.
Rudin's trial lawyer, Michael Amador, didn't immediately respond Tuesday to messages.
The federal appeals panel said a lawyer appointed to handle Rudin's appeal abandoned the effort amid confusion about whether a brief had been filed on time with the Nevada Supreme Court. It hadn't.
The lawyer faulted for work on Rudin's appeal, Dayvid Figler, said he was glad Rudin would get a chance at a new trial, which Figler said Rudin "deserved all along."
"I didn't screw up her trial. I didn't screw up her appeal," Figler said. "The court was giving extra time to get this very burdensome case before it. Everyone was operating under the assumption that she had more time to file the post-conviction appeal."
Rudin's current attorney, Christopher Oram, said he was elated to have a chance to seek a new trial. He said Rudin, being held at the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center, hadn't yet heard of the ruling.
"She is absolutely innocent," Oram said. "We've been working to prove it for a long time. I'm trying to reverse 10 years of complex litigation that was very unfair."
Rudin was convicted of killing Ron Rudin, a 64-year-old prominent Las Vegas real estate developer who disappeared in December 1994.
Prosecutors said he was shot as he slept and his body was hauled in a trunk to the desert near Lake Mohave and burned. His skull and some charred bones were found in January 1995, about 45 miles from Las Vegas.
Margaret Rudin, an antiques dealer, tried to obtain her share of her husband's $11 million fortune and became a fugitive after she was indicted in his death in 1997.
An "America's Most Wanted" viewer identified Rudin in November 1999, living with a retired firefighter in Revere, Massachusetts.
Rudin was granted a new trial in 2008 by a judge who commented on what she called a case laced with "intrigue and spins and loops" involving a cast of characters and witnesses with what she observed to be "a lot of ulterior motives."
The Nevada Supreme Court overruled that decision in 2010.