The murder trial of Todd Pate started Monday with the defense attorney telling a Kings County jury that the defendant indeed killed his wife, Melanie, but it’s not a case of first-degree murder.
Rather, Pate, 53, should face a charge of voluntary manslaughter, said defense attorney Melina Benninghoff. “It is clearly a case where my client lost it,” she said. “He was completely out of his mind.”
On Sept. 2, 2013, Pate called the Hanford Police Department and said: “You need to come get me. I just killed my wife.”
When police arrived at the couple’s home in Hanford, they found Melanie Pate’s body floating in the backyard pool and her throat slit. A red cloud of blood surrounded her, and there was a path of blood from the home to the pool, prosecutor Nicholas Schuller said during opening statements.
She was 42.
A few days before, Melanie Pate had served divorce papers on her husband.
Todd Pate didn’t want the marriage to end, was upset by the loss of control and was “motivated by his selfishness,” Schuller said.
It is clearly a case where my client lost it.
Melina Benninghoff, defense attorney
The divorce papers requested that he pay child support and let her have the home, he said.
Their 12-year-old son, who was not home, had the day before thrown the divorce papers in the pool and Todd Pate had removed them, dried them out and read them, Benninghoff said.
The divorce papers sought that Todd Pate be allowed only 20 percent visiting rights, but he was a devoted father who spent a lot of time with the couple’s child, Benninghoff said.
He said, “I have done nothing wrong; why are you asking that from me?” Benninghoff said in her opening statement.
“The lawyer said I could get that,” was Melanie’s reply, Benninghoff said.
Todd Pate responded by reaching toward her neck and saying, “Are you crazy? You are not going to take my child away from me.”
Benninghoff also said there would be evidence that Pate had engaged in more than one extramarital affair.
Schuller said Todd Pate was supposed to go to work that day on the Central Coast, but “the evidence will show he purposely stayed home and killed her. ... It was divorce by murder in the first degree.”