Home A Reporter's Life: A weblog About Court Trials Pictures N.H. Journal Discovery Hornet Memories Old News Links Contact

As the police and courts reporter for a small daily newspaper in central California, I cover
a variety of court cases. The biggest one to date is the murder trial of Sarah Dutra.
Years after the verdict, the story goes on.
(Story links below are listed from newest to oldest and open in a new window.
The articles are copyrighted, so please link to this page or to the articles directly.)

Sarah Dutra was in her fourth year of college when she was arrested and charged with murdering her boss, 52-year-old Sacramento attorney Larry McNabney. His wife of six years fled across the country, was captured in Florida and there she confessed to poisoning her husband. She implicated Dutra, with whom she had become close friends, and then hanged herself in her Florida jail cell two weeks later.

As details emerged, friends and family learned that the attorney's wife had more than 30 aliases and no real identification. Some knew her as Elisa McNabney, others knew her as Elisa Jordan. In the media circus that initially followed the case, she was called the 'Black Widow,' and the majority of the press began referring to her as Laren Sims.

Dutra, meanwhile, pleaded not guilty to the crime. Early in the case, prosecutors decided not to pursue the death penalty, but if found guilty, she could have faced life in prison without parole. The trial lasted two months, and the jury reached a verdict in March 2003. Months later, the story continues. To contact me regarding the case or this page, send e-mail to dutracase@thesmudge.com.

* Note: Starred articles were added as of Aug. 14, 2005.

Overview: Case background and the people involved.


*Decision: Justices rule that the sentence may be halved. (written by a different reporter)

*Arguments: Dutra's appeal reaches a three-justice state appellate panel.


*Tsunami: The prosecutor vacationed in Thailand and witnessed the deadly tsunami.

*Book: True-crime author Carlton Smith publishes a book on the case in December 2004.

*Deputy cleared: Two months later, the lead investigator is cleared of any charges.

Documentary: The lead detective is featured in a documentary but faces other legal woes.

*Top 13: The case is named No. 11 of the baker's dozen of top news stories from 2003.

More TV: CourtTV began filming an hour-long documentary in November 2003.

Reward: In September 2003, $10,000 was paid to two people who helped find Laren Sims.

TV special: The first of several TV specials on the case was set to air in July.

Prison: Two days later, Sarah Dutra was transferred to state prison.

Sentencing: Jurors clapped at sentencing, as the 19-month saga drew to an end.

Verdict: Emotions ran high as a crowded courtroom waited for a verdict.


Jury deliberations: Twelve people begin deliberating whether Sarah Dutra is guilty.

More closing arguments: The defense says Sarah Dutra had no reason to kill her boss.

Closing arguments: The prosecution argues that Sarah Dutra planned the murder.

Day 27: The defense rests, and the testimony phase of the trial comes to a close.

Day 26: Psychologists testify that Sarah Dutra has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Day 25: A month after a woman illegally moved $74,543, Larry McNabney married her.

Day 24: A horse trainer denies kissing Laren Sims. (written by a different reporter)

Day 19: On March 19, 2002, Sarah Dutra was arrested. The video was shown as she cried.

Day 18: The videos continue, with detectives lying in an attempt to get the truth.

Day 17: Jurors watch more interview videos with Sarah Dutra and her dog.

Day 16: Detectives found Laren Sims' belongings in a horse trailer after she vanished.

Day 15: Laren Sims wondered if horse tranquilizer could kill a human, witness says.

Day 14: Jurors wince at photographs of Larry McNabney's grave being excavated.

Day 13: A second video shows police telling Sarah Dutra her boss is dead.

Day 12: A video of another Sarah Dutra interview is shown, this one with her fluffy dog.

Day 11: Larry McNabney thought he was being poisoned, witness says.

Day 10: A farmworker recalls finding Larry McNabney's body one year earlier.

Day 9: Laren Sims allegedly wanted her husband dead. (written by a different reporter)

Day 8: Jurors hear a taped interview Sarah Dutra had with police.

Day 7: Laren Sims' daughter testifies on her 18th birthday.

Day 6: A convicted felon refused to testify against Sarah Dutra.

Day 5: Sarah Dutra's mother testifies. (written by a different reporter)

Day 4: After testifying for two days, a former co-worker of Sarah Dutra feels 'badgered.'

Day 3: Sarah Dutra and the now-deceased Laren Sims were seen signing checks.

Day 2: Dutra's attorney appears to be shifting blame to a horse trainer.

Day 1: The case opens as Larry McNabney's children testify.

Jury selected: At times, the courtroom erupted in laughter as selection continued.

Jury selection: 500 jurors were initially called for the high-profile case.


Confession is evidence: Sarah Dutra's confession is allowed into trial evidence.

Trial delayed: Originally set to begin in October, the trial was postponed three months.

Death penalty: How it works, and why Sarah Dutra could have been eligible for it.


Information emerges: Professors and students were shocked by the arrest.

Arrest: Word of Sarah Dutra's arrest hit the college campus the following day.

Except where noted, all material on this site is Copyright © 2001-2006 by Layla Bohm.

Page last updated August 14, 2005.