The family of Gerald Rabourn could not hold back their tears on January 30, 2015, as the caregiver who had been found guilty of killing the aged Rancho Bernardo man and taking his money for her own personal gain was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Although Rabourn’s body has never been found, a jury in October of 2014 found Denise Michelle Goodwin guilty of first degree murder with a special-circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain. Rabourn, aged 89, was last seen in October 2010. According to the prosecution, Goodwin took everything that Rabourn had and then killed him to cover up what she had done.
During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell presented evidence that Goodwin targeted elderly individuals, even advertising on a senior dating website as a 74 year old woman. Goodwin was 44 years old at the time. She later applied through a senior care service to take care of hospice patients, and was hired to care for Rabourn’s 91 year old wife, who was dying of cancer. Goodwin remained with Rabourn after his wife died, gained his complete trust, and eventually managed to take over his finances, including selling his home. She took over $500,000 for her own personal use, and was arrested as she was boarding a flight to Europe. According to his family, Rabourn, a retired mapmaker, was frugal with his money and would never have just given it to Goodwin.
Defense Attorney Ronald Bobo acknowledged that his client had taken funds from Rabourn, but said that it was a “giant leap” to think that she had killed him. Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell disagreed and at the sentencing told the Court, “She’s a thief disguised as a churchgoer. She’s a killer disguised as a caregiver.” Prior to the pronouncement of sentence, Judge Charles Rogers denied Attorney Bobo’s motion to reduce the first degree murder conviction to second degree.
Rabourn’s grown children and grandchildren took turns giving their victim impact statements to the Court. With his voice breaking, Rabourn’s son closed his statement by saying, “My father did not deserve to be murdered.” Yet it was Rabourn’s daughter, now a chaplain, who gripped the Court with her eloquent speech. She first humanized her father, making Judge Rogers smile as she described how her father loved to eat fish sandwiches, took Jack LaLanne care of his body, was so compulsive that he picked up leaves each day by hand, taught her how to float on her back, and walked her down the aisle on her wedding day. Later she turned to her father’s absence, and said she knew her father was dead when she did not receive a birthday card from him. She went on to describe the visions that she has of her father’s last moments, which have tormented her and destroyed her health. She has nightmares of where her father’s body might be. She detailed the beautiful burial their family should have had, the music that would have lifted her father’s body to heaven, and the military honors her father would have been given and that he had earned as a WWII veteran.
In a gesture of mercy, she turned toward Goodwin and told her that she forgives her, stating that she is “not beyond restoration from a loving God” but that she must return the most sacred of things that she has taken, her father’s body. In closing she asked the Court not to judge her father by the few years remaining, but the 89 years he lived and in which he was loved by his family.
Before sentencing Goodwin, Judge Rogers said there were some moments that are not big enough to hold everything that goes into them, and that this was one of those moments. To the Rabourn family, he expressed that he was profoundly sorry that a human life was taken for financial gain. He then pronounced the sentence the family had asked for, life without the possibility of parole.
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