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Tuesday, April 14, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Roth's Credibility Under Attack -- Cross-Examination Begins In Murder Trial

After explaining in court for two days, and in great detail, the events surrounding his wife's drowning last summer, Randy Roth found himself today fending off a prosecutor's cross-examination intended to make jurors believe he is both a killer and a liar.

Roth, charged with first-degree murder in King County Superior Court, told jurors it was his wife's idea to go rafting on Lake Sammamish on July 23.

In fact, he testified, Cynthia Baumgartner Roth called him twice that Tuesday morning to make sure he'd come home early from work and take her there. Within hours, according to Roth, his wife was lying face down and unconscious in the water underneath his capsized raft.

Roth told jurors yesterday he tried his best to save her.

"I got to her and tipped her over and tried to put two breaths into her," said Roth. "It was the only thing I could remember from the life-saving classes. But I couldn't. It was like blowing into one of those long birthday balloons in which you can't seem to get enough air."

Roth said he then righted the raft, climbed in, and pulled her up at the back of the vessel. He retrieved two plastic bags that had spilled out of the raft because one contained his glasses and he feared he couldn't find shore without them.

Roth said he tried to row ashore as fast as possible, using the lifeguard towers that rise above Idylwood Beach as landmarks. He got to shore quickly, seemingly in only a few minutes, he testified, but had to change rowing positions at least once because he got tired.

"I was thinking just a few minutes, just a few minutes, just a few minutes to get to the lifeguard," he said, his voice wavering for the first time. "When I got there I told the boys (Cynthia Roth's two sons), `Run over to the lifeguard as quick as possible but so you don't create a panic so everyone gets in the way.' "

Roth's voice cracked again as he described disassembling the beached raft as paramedics worked to revive his wife.

"At that point I was sick to my stomach," she said. "I pulled the air vents in the raft because I wanted to be ready to go when the medics took her."

The account conflicts with that of several witnesses at the beach who said Roth rowed leisurely toward shore and never waved or called for help, even though a lifeguard was yelling at him to stay away from the swimming area.

Paramedics who tried to revive his wife said Roth appeared so casual that they were surprised he was related to her.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman wasted no time today quizzing Roth about the similarities in the deaths of his two wives.

In both cases, Roth has testified, it was the idea of each woman to go to the scene where each eventually died. And in both cases, he initially resisted the outings, according to his version of events.

His second wife, Janis Miranda Roth, died in 1981 in a fall from Beacon Rock in Skamania County. Roth testified today that, although he felt it was a little cold, he agreed to go hiking because it was "her day" to choose an activity.

In that vein, Roth told police that Cynthia was the one who wanted to raft to the other side of Lake Sammamish because it would "be romantic."

Roth was as evasive today as he was direct and complete during previous days of questioning by his own attorney, George Cody.

Roth testified yesterday that in last summer's drowning, Cynthia used one hand to grab an oarlock when the raft was tipped over, apparently by a combination of a boat wake and her weight. But the prosecutor said Roth never mentioned that detail until he saw the raft tip over in a defense expert's videotaped re-enactment, in which the woman grabbed the oarlocks.

Roth said no one had asked him specific questions about the position of her hands. But police have testified he told them she was grabbing the rope.

Roth led the jury on a detailed trip across the boat-filled Lake Sammamish and back near Idylwood Park, where Cynthia Roth's two children were waiting. Just past the main lane of boat traffic, the raft stopped because Cynthia wanted to go swimming, he testified yesterday.

Between 5 and 15 minutes later, he said, she got a cramp, paddled to the bobbing raft and grabbed hold of the rope and oarlock.

As he began swimming around to the other side of the raft to stabilize it, a wake from a passing speedboat swamped his wife from behind and capsized the raft atop her, he said. Roth said his attempts to rescue her were hampered because he had tucked his glasses in a bag inside the boat.

Roth also rebutted a series of other claims made by prosecution witnesses:

-- He denied taking his fourth wife's will and valuables from a safe-deposit box. He said that when he checked the box for the first time a few days after the July 23 death, it was empty.

Lori Baker, whom Cynthia Baumgartner Roth designated in her will as guardian of her two sons, testified that on Aug. 7, Roth denied the existence of both the will and the safe-deposit box. A copy of the will had been filed in Snohomish County, but the valuables were never recovered.

Roth admitted he accused Baker of taking custody of the two boys to gain Social Security checks.

-- He denied he repeatedly called a woman at his job in the days following his wife's death, and denied asking her to fly with him to Reno with tickets originally purchased to celebrate his one-year wedding anniversary.

Roth claimed he tried to give the woman both tickets because he could not get a refund.

-- He denied that on the night of his wife's death he called a man to see if he was selling a red Corvette. Roth claimed the man had left a message on his answering machine and was asking about an ad Roth had placed in a buy-and-sell publication.

-- He denied he tried to stop Cynthia Roth's children from retrieving their possessions from their home. He said he only stopped them in cases in which he wasn't sure what belonged to them or to his own son.

Prosecutors are claiming Roth killed his fourth wife to collect on a $385,000 insurance policy. He said he and Cynthia Roth had agreed to buy the policy, which was recommended to them by a life-insurance agent.

Roth's mother, Elizabeth Roth, and one of his sisters - until now absent from the proceedings - were in court today.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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