Schuster prayers recalled in court

VAN NUYS -- Testimony in Larissa Schuster's murder trial Wednesday made one thing clear: Schuster regularly prayed for her husband.

In an interview with police on July 11, 2003 -- less than two days after prosecutors say Schuster murdered her estranged husband and left his body in a barrel of acid -- the 47-year-old former Clovis biochemist told detectives she prayed that Timothy Schuster would not harbor bitter feelings about their divorce proceedings and "get over this hostility." That interview, which was videotaped, was played in front of jurors Wednesday morning in a Los Angeles County courthouse where Schuster is being tried.

But jurors also heard from Schuster's former manicurist, Terri Lopez, who told them that Schuster's prayers were not so innocent: "She told me that she prayed every night he would die," Lopez testified. "She said she wished he was dead, that there was no use for him on this earth."

The evidence came on the third day of testimony from prosecution witnesses, who have described Schuster as a woman who was easily enraged by her husband's actions and who wanted full custody of their two children and the majority of their shared possessions.

Schuster's attorney, Roger Nuttall, has sought to portray his client's outbursts as natural reactions to provocations made by Timothy Schuster, such as his decision to move out of the family's house in summer 2002 and take some furniture with him without first asking his wife.

Nuttall has said outside the courtroom that his client did not kill her husband and that James Fagone, then 21 and a former employee of Schuster's research lab in Fresno, committed the crime by himself.

On Wednesday, Lopez testified that when Schuster came in for her nail appointment on the evening of July 10, 2003 -- the same day prosecutors say she killed her husband -- Schuster told Lopez, "I have a feeling the divorce will finally go my way."

During his questioning of Lopez, Nuttall implied that Schuster made the comments not because she had just killed her husband, but rather because attorneys for Larissa and Timothy Schuster had just agreed on a shared custody plan for the Schusters' son Tyler, then 12.

In the videotaped interview with police, Larissa Schuster tells Clovis police detectives how she once told women in her church's divorce care group that it was important to pray for their estranged or former husbands:

"One night we were sitting there and we were closing out and the lady says, 'Who wants to request prayer?' And of course here I am, I'm a pretty strong personality type of person. I'm a businesswoman, you know. I'm independent. I can take care of myself. But I'm looking at these other women and they're all housewives who, when their husbands came home one day and said 'I'm gone,' they were devastated.

"I just said to them, 'I hope I can shed some inspiration on you as a woman, on how you can become strong and independent. I want to pray for my husband because we need to pray for him to get some help to get over this hostility.' "

Schuster later said that the group's leader told her that her willingness to pray for Timothy Schuster was a sign of "growth in the divorce process."

Fagone, Schuster's former employee, was convicted last December for his role in Timothy Schuster's murder. He testified in his trial that in the early hours of July 10, 2003, he and Larissa Schuster entered her husband's house, knocked him out and drove him to Larissa Schuster's house. There, Fagone said, Larissa Schuster put her husband in a 55-gallon barrel and poured hydrochloric acid over him. It's unclear whether he was alive at the time.

Fagone was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. If Schuster is convicted, she would face the same penalty.