DENVER, June 24 (Reuters) - A Denver man accused of killing his wife can use more than $500,000 received from her life insurance policy to pay for the lawyers defending him against the murder charge, Colorado’s highest court ruled on Monday.
The opinion by the Colorado Supreme Court overturned a probate judge’s ruling that Robert Feldman, 55, who is charged with first-degree murder in the 2015 slaying of his wife, Stacy, was not entitled to the insurance proceeds because of the state’s “slayer statute.”
That law bars anyone from gaining any financial benefit from another’s estate if they are held criminally responsible for causing the death. However, the higher court ruled that the statute does not to apply to a third party - in this case a legal defense team - that is paid for a “legally enforceable obligation.”
Criminal charges were not filed until nearly three years after the woman’s death, by which time Robert Feldman had been paid $751,910 as the sole beneficiary of his wife’s life insurance policy.
The slayer statue, Monday’s opinion said, “does not expressly address the question of freezing insurance proceeds until it can be determined ... whether the person receiving the payment was entitled to receive it or not.”
Investigators were suspicious of Feldman early on but the medical examiner’s office initially said it was unable to determine the cause and manner of the 44-year-old woman’s death.
Investigators ultimately enlisted an outside physician specializing in domestic violence strangulation cases to review the autopsy results. The expert concluded that the victim died from a violent assault and strangulation, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
Feldman, arrested in 2018, gave his attorneys $555,000 from the insurance payout, which was deposited into the law firm’s account.
The legal guardian of the couple’s two minor children successfully argued to the probate court that Feldman was not entitled to the proceeds after he was charged with his wife’s murder. The law firm appealed against the ruling, setting the stage for the higher court’s decision.
Legal analyst Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor not involved in the case, said the children lost out in the balancing test applied by the court.
“When there is tension between civil rights and the criminal rights of an accused, the courts often emphasize the need for a fair trial and the panoply of rights afforded a criminal defendant,” Silverman said. That included a presumption of innocence, he said. (Reporting by Steve Gorman Editing by Paul Tait)