Mother testifies Schuster 'agitated'

VAN NUYS -- When Dee Ann Foreman learned that her daughter, Larissa Schuster, had been arrested at an airport in St. Louis, she became frantic. She begged police to tell her what had happened.

"I asked them what they were holding Larissa for, and they said suspicion of murder," Foreman testified in Schuster's murder trial Wednesday. "And I said, 'That's unbelievable.' It was a nightmare."

Foreman is one of the last witnesses to testify for the defense in Schuster's 5- week-old trial being held in a Los Angeles County courthouse. She told jurors that she never asked her daughter about the charges against her, because "I knew it wasn't true."

During Foreman's testimony, she and Schuster exchanged smiles. More than once, Schuster wiped away tears.

Schuster, a 47-year-old former biochemist from Clovis, is accused of murdering her estranged husband on July 10, 2003, and sealing his body inside a barrel of acid.

Schuster says she was not involved in her husband's death and that James Fagone, then a 21-year-old baby sitter for her son, confessed to her in the early hours of July 12, 2003, that he had killed her husband, Timothy Schuster.

Fagone was convicted of first-degree murder last December for his role in the killing, but he testified in his trial that Schuster was the one who murdered her husband and that he helped her break into Timothy Schuster's home thinking the plan was to rob, not kill, him.

Foreman testified Wednesday that she noticed a stark change in Schuster's emotional state on July 12 -- the day Fagone allegedly confessed to Schuster -- and during the following days. She said that her daughter had been distressed in prior months over her ongoing divorce with Timothy Schuster and because of strife with her teenage daughter. But, she said, on July 12 Schuster seemed even more frustrated, telling Foreman that she feared her phones might be bugged by Clovis police, who had interviewed her the previous night about her missing husband.

Asked to describe Schuster's emotional state, Foreman replied, "I can't think of the word, just helter-skelter or something like that -- just agitated."

Foreman's testimony may help the defense argue that Schuster's sudden change in mood reflects the fact that she did not learn of her husband's death until July 12 -- two days after she is accused of killing him.

But Foreman also said that even though she and Schuster had a close relationship and called each other at least once a day, Schuster never told her about her husband's death or that Fagone said he had killed him.

Foreman also testified that on the evening of July 10 -- almost a full day after prosecutors say Schuster killed her husband -- her daughter called her to say she was worried about why her husband had not picked up their son that evening as scheduled. Others who knew Schuster have testified that she made similar comments to them that day or the following day.

The testimony helps the defense argue that Schuster was unaware her husband had been killed earlier that day.