OAKLAND (BCN)—An Alameda County prosecutor told jurors today that blood and DNA evidence shows that a locksmith with an alleged financial motive killed his wife at the couple’s home in Oakland’s Montclair district two years ago.
In her opening statement in 55-year-old Joseph Bontempo’s murder trial in Alameda County Superior Court, prosecutor Laura Passaglia said that by killing 57-year-old Laurie Wolfe at their home in the 6700 block of Saroni Drive on July 6, 2014, Bontempo “silenced the only witness but not the evidence.”
Passaglia said she believes Bontempo “was trying to get away with murder and inherit a multi-million-dollar estate from his wife but he didn’t realize the evidence he left behind shows the truth.”
Wolfe was dead when paramedics arrived at the couple’s home in a quiet residential area shortly after Bontempo called 911 at 6:30 p.m. on July 6, 2014, and said she had accidentally fallen down a flight of stairs.
But Passaglia said the paramedics were “extremely suspicious” of Bontempo’s story because there was blood on the walls and carpet next to the stairs.
Passaglia said Bontempo told paramedics that he thought Wolfe fell down the stairs because he had just polished them, but investigators who examined the stairs found them to be dirty and dusty, not slick.
The prosecutor said investigators later found Bontempo’s DNA underneath Wolfe’s fingernails, which she said shows that Wolfe was fighting back “to try to save her own life” after he attacked her.
Passaglia said the evidence in the case indicates that Bontempo “bashed her head with force multiple times into the very hard and sharp stairs,” which are displayed in court.
She said veteran pathologist Dr. Thomas Rogers ruled that Wolfe’s death wasn’t an accident and instead was caused by multiple blunt injuries to her central nervous system, ribs and fingers.
Bontempo and Wolfe were partners for about 20 years and were married for 12 years before her death, according to Passaglia.
She said Wolfe, who owned a machine shop and had inherited a large amount of money from her father, had an estate of nearly $5 million and Bontempo “had a financial incentive to kill her” because he was her natural heir.
But Bontempo’s defense attorney Palden Ukyab said Bontempo had no motive to murder Wolfe “because he loved her with all of his life.”
Ukyab said Bontempo “put her on a pedestal for 20 years and he worshipped her.”
The defense lawyer said, “Their marriage, like any other marriage, had its good times and its difficult times,” but said Bontempo never committed any acts of domestic violence against Wolfe.
Ukyab said many of the couple’s friends will testify during Bontempo’s trial that they don’t think he was capable of killing Wolfe.
But Passaglia told jurors, “Remember, they can only speak to what they observed” and only the two people who are married to one another truly know what their marriage is like.
Ukyab, who didn’t discuss the blood and DNA evidence against Bontempo in his opening statement, told jurors that at the end of the trial he will tell them there is reasonable doubt that Bontempo killed Wolfe and will ask them to find him not guilty.
But Passaglia said, “You will be convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Laurie Wolfe was murdered and that Joseph Bontempo was the one who killed her.”