Roth On Witness Stand Is Detached, Clinical

When jurors heard Randy Roth describe how his second wife slipped and "cartwheeled" to her death off Beacon Rock in southwest Washington, they were likely not only concentrating on what he said, but also how he said it.

After hearing several prosecution witnesses testify about Roth's lack of emotion, jurors are getting a first-hand look.

Roth's answers to open-ended questions from his attorney George Cody were precise, thoughtful and clinical.

The prosecution has presented a largely circumstantial case that portrays Roth as being cold and detached after the deaths of two of his wives, both of whom were well-insured.

He is on trial in King County Superior Court, accused of first-degree murder in the drowning of his fourth wife, Cynthia Baumgartner Roth, in Lake Sammamish last summer to collect $385,000 in insurance.

Yesterday, Roth described the 1981 death of his second wife, Janis Roth, with a matter-of-fact, monotone delivery.

"She stepped up and came down with her left foot and the earth broke," said Roth. "She did almost a cartwheel in which her first contact with the ground was with her head and shoulders."

Roth, who said the hike was his wife's idea, added that she "hollered" as she tumbled off the cliff.

Prosecution witnesses have testified that Roth gave conflicting statements about how his wife fell.

In some versions, he was walking ahead of her. In another, she walked toward the cliff to take a picture and slipped.

Roth testified he continued to hold out hope that his wife was alive when he heard radio transmissions that rescuers had found her. But he sounded distant when describing in court how he saw his wife lying in the aid car.

"She didn't look as badly damaged as one of the individuals described," Roth testified. "Her hair was matted with blood, but her face didn't look bad."

Neither Roth's mother, Elizabeth Roth, nor any other member of his family was in the packed courtroom yesterday, but the mother said from her area home that far too much emphasis is being placed by prosecutors and media on her son's demeanor.

"Randy and his brother were brought up by their father, who didn't allow them to show emotion," she said. "He (Randy Roth) was reprimanded for it. That's just the way he was brought up. The prosecutors are presenting him as cold-hearted and cruel, but he's not."

Defense attorneys have not called any of Roth's family as witnesses and are not expected to do so.

Roth's mother said she has stayed away from most of the trial because "it's too heartbreaking for him to see us there. He'd rather just face it alone."

Roth yesterday spoke several times of "family-oriented" matters and described certain people, such as a prospective baby-sitter, as "the individual."

He also presented different accounts of events than those given by prosecution witnesses:

-- He denied stealing an envelope of money from the hands of Janis Roth's daughter, Jalina Miranda, shortly after the death in 1981. Miranda testified last month that her mother showed her the money and intended it for her, but that Roth took it.

In fact, he described his attempts to keep custody of Jalina, who finally went to live with her natural father. Roth said Jalina cried when she learned she couldn't live with him.

A Social Security representative has testified that Roth filed for Social Security survivor payments for Jalina even after she was no longer living with him.

-- He denied asking a former friend a month before Janis Roth died if he could "ever kill your wife." Roth said he could only speculate that Tim Brocatto may have drawn his "own interpretation" of something he said.

He also denied helping Brocatto stage a fake burglary at his house to collect insurance money, partly so Brocatto could repay a loan to Roth. Brocatto said Roth masterminded the plan and showed him how to fill out the insurance claims.

"I was not involved in that," Roth testified. "This was new information to me when Tim was in here testifying. My only recollection is he asked to borrow a tool catalog. I am only making an assumption that he may have used it to help fill out a (insurance) form."

-- He denied calling his life-insurance agent at home, seeking to collect on a policy, the day after Janis Roth died. Roth also testified he and his second wife took out life insurance on each other at the same time they bought home insurance, at the suggestion of the agent.

Cody today was to continue taking Roth through events surrounding his third marriage, which ended in divorce, and eventually to the death of Cynthia Roth last summer. Prosecutors plan an extensive cross-examination.