January 14, 2016

People v. Craig

Probate proceedings rarely mushroom into a criminal proceeding. However, in the case of a forged document, a criminal prosecution can arise. Herein lies the story of a forged will and an eventual criminal conviction.

People v. Craig, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case # GA086289

Sherry Behrle was a dependent adult living in Tujunga, CA. Due to her age and physical condition, she was assisted by a caregiver, Kelli Dawn Craig. Ms. Behrle passed away on April 14, 2010. Ms. Behrle's brother visited her residence the next week and was informed by Ms. Craig that Ms. Behrle had penned a will that distributed her entire estate to Ms. Craig. Or so it seemed........

According to the unpublished appellate opinion (Appellant is Ms. Craig/Lundquist and Norman were co-conspirators):

"Los Angeles Police Sergeant Robert Grant investigated the present case and interviewed appellant. Appellant told Grant the following. Appellant had known Behrle a long time and had been her caregiver during the latter part of Behrle's life. On April 28, 2010, appellant, Lundquist, and Norman created a will that was submitted to the probate court. Norman actually created the will, and Lundquist and Norman were going to be witnesses. Appellant signed Behrle's signature on the will and signed Behrle's initials on the witness page. At some point when appellant, Lundquist, and Norman were completing the will, they realized Lundquist and Norman had signed the wrong date, i.e., April 28, 2010, on the witness page. A new witness page was signed with the date February 8, 2010.

Grant had appellant identify where she had signed or initialed the will. Appellant circled and initialed where she had signed. She did the same thing on the second page (the witness page) of the will. The interview was tape-recorded but the recording was lost. The will (People's exh. No. 16), with appellant's circling and initialing, was admitted into evidence."  

Ms. Craig, at trial, apparently had a different viewpoint of the facts:

"Appellant denied telling Grant she forged the will or gave it to Lundquist and Norman to sign, and denied preparing any portion of the will or signing it. Appellant circled items on the will because she was afraid Grant would arrest her former husband and take her children. Lundquist, Norman, and Grant lied during their testimony and only appellant told the truth. Kurt Kuhn, a forensic science consultant, examined the will and opined it suggested appellant did not sign Behrle's purported signature."

Ultimately a jury convicted her on two charges, perjury "and forgery committed by altering, corrupting, or falsifying a legal document. (Pen. Code, §§ 118, subd. (a), 470, subd. (c).) The court sentenced appellant to prison for two years."

On appeal, her conviction was upheld in an unpublished opinion.