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Wednesday, April 22, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Randy Roth: Killer Or Martyr? -- Trial's Closing Arguments Paint Wildly Differing Pictures

Randy Roth is a cold-hearted manipulator who trapped young, single mothers with false charm and the promise of love only to kill them shortly after they signed life-insurance documents, say King County prosecutors.

Randy Roth is a single father constantly searching for a family setting who is now being prosecuted on circumstance and attacked more for his personality than on the basis of evidence, his defense attorney contends.

The exhaustive closing arguments that began yesterday were to be completed today.

Jurors, who have heard from 150 witnesses and been led through the details of Roth's past six different times, will review the two portraits of him during deliberations.

Roth is accused in King County Superior Court of drowning his fourth wife, Cynthia Baumgartner Roth, 34, for $385,000 in insurance. The first-degree murder trial began March 10. No one saw Roth struggle with his wife, but no one has corroborated his story that their raft capsized, either.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman, during closing arguments that lasted more than three hours, dwelled upon the striking similarities in Roth's relationships and in the deaths of his second wife, Janis Miranda Roth, in 1981 and of Cynthia Baumgartner Roth in 1991.

(He has not been charged in Janis Roth's death.)

Roth married both women, who had small children, after brief, intense courtships. Each time, the newlyweds bought a new home and took out life insurance simultaneously.

In both cases, the relationships seemed to sour quickly over issues of money and freedom and to end abruptly when the women died in what appeared to be accidents on recreational outings.

In both cases, he described failed attempts to save them, but most witnesses at the trial depicted him as emotionally detached.

He collected more than $100,000 in insurance when Janis fell 300 feet off a cliff in Skamania County and was in line to receive $385,000 from an insurance policy on Cynthia, who drowned in Lake Sammamish July 23.

Brenneman said Roth was buoyed by the relative ease he found in collecting insurance money for Janis Roth's death, so he tried the same formula last summer.

"He was stalking his prey not with the traditional weapons, but with a smile, flowers, and a marriage proposal," she said.

With alarming suddenness and shortly before her death, Cynthia Baumgartner Roth, a homemaker with no earning power of her own, found her life insured for $385,000.

She also changed the beneficiary of her existing life-insurance policy from her two sons to Roth because he falsely told her he was changing his policy to name her, Brenneman said.

The prosecutor also highlighted a series of conflicting accounts Roth gave in both deaths as well as some of his testimony that stretched logic.

A month before Cynthia Roth drowned, Roth called prospective employers and, according to them, said he could not report to work because his wife had been in a critical accident in Idaho. On the stand, he said he told them that he may have said "I dunno." That may have been mistaken for "Idaho," he claimed.

Brenneman called Roth's account "absurd," but said it represented several times in which he adjusted his story during his testimony.

But defense attorney George Cody claimed prosecutors have used faulty circular logic in which the two alleged murders are not strong enough cases in themselves but each is somehow being presented as proof of the legitimacy of the other.

Cody said prosecutors fell short of proving Roth pushed Janis off the cliff and were depending on events that took place 10 years in the future to retroactively build the case. Without proving that murder, the prosecution's contention that Cynthia's drowning was a pattern of murder also falls short, he said.

Cody claimed most of the prosecution's case was made up of "collateral issues designed to go to your gut," not on direct evidence. He pointed to several cases in which Roth's version was proved more credible than prosecution witnesses':

-- A time card apparently shows Roth didn't take a lunch break from his job as a mechanic the day before his wife died. A female co-worker at the auto dealership testified he talked over lunch that day of how the "contract" between him and Cynthia Roth would soon expire.

-- Phone records seemed to refute prosecutors' claims that Roth called a man in an effort to buy a red Corvette hours after Cynthia Roth died. Roth seemed to be returning the man's initial call about an ad Roth had placed.

Cody attacked several of the prosecution's 131 witnesses. He said Tim Brocato, who testified that Roth talked hypothetically about killing Janis Roth, holds a grudge against him.

The prosecution said that Roth had wanted to marry Mary Jo Phillips until he found out she was uninsurable. But Cody called Phillips "flighty" and said the relationship fell apart because Phillips had tried to rid Roth's home of Janis Roth's ashes.

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

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