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So-Called ‘Black Widow’ to Get New Murder Trial

(CN) - A one-time Las Vegas socialite dubbed the "black widow" during the trial that led to her conviction of killing her millionaire fifth husband is entitled to new day in court, a divided 9th Circuit ruled.

Margaret Rudin, now 72 and serving a life sentence in the women's prison in North Las Vegas, was convicted of shooting husband Ron Rudin in the head while he slept.

Prosecutors said Rudin feared her husband of seven years was going to divorce her and she would lose out on millions of dollars in inheritance. The Nevada Supreme Court on Sept. 10, 2014, affirmed her murder conviction.

On Tuesday, however, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit overturned a lower court's denial of her writ of habeas corpus petition and approved a new trial. In doing so it said "extraordinary circumstances" stopped Rubin from filing her application for federal habeas corpus relief due to poor legal representation.

As described in a majority opinion written by U.S. Circuit Judge Mary H. Murguia, those extraordinary circumstances arose when "the first attorney appointed to represent Rudin in collateral review proceedings abandoned her, and during which period she was diligent in pursuing her rights."

Murguia went on to describe Rudin's trial as being "replete with alleged errors and professional misconduct on the part of the defense team."

According to the majority opinion, Rudin's attorney failed to review thousands of pages of discovery prior to the start of the trial, and was accused of failing to interview key witnesses.

Murguia noted the court appointed attorney Thomas Pitaro to help with Rudin's defense, but said, " even with Pitaro's help, Rudin's trial was replete with alleged errors and professional misconduct on the part of the defense team.

"Amador, for example, began with an opening statement that had 'no cohesive theme.' Over the course of trial, Amador was accused of creating a prejudicial conflict of interest by allegedly negotiating agreements for the literary and media rights to his representation," the judge wrote.

The majority held that a 2007 appellate ruling extended the one-year deadline without briefing the "timeliness question" or dismissing Rudin's petition, which "affirmatively misled'" her into thinking the court "excused her late filing and that her federal limitations period would be statutorily tolled."

Murguia found that Rudin successfully showed she was entitled to equitable tolling of her habeas corpus petition until Jan. 20, 2011, which extended her filing deadline to Sept. 9, 2011. Because Rudin filed her petition on April 25, 2011, two of the three judges on the panel, the other being U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, who was sitting by designation from the Eastern District of Wisconsin, said she filed it within the allowable timeframe.

In a dissenting opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain said Rudin should not have been given equitable tolling past Aug. 22, 2007, "because she failed to act with reasonable diligence to protect her rights for the duration of the relevant time period."

"The majority's bare assertion that Rudin diligently pursued her rights does not make it so," he continues. "That 'Rudin waited only three months after the Nevada Supreme Court denied her relief -- from January 20[, 2011] to April 25, 2011 -- before filing her federal petition' is completely beside the point. ... Indeed, even if the August 22, 2007 conference were an 'extraordinary circumstance' that would qualify for equitable tolling purposes, Rudin must still show she acted with reasonable diligence between August 22, 2007 and April 25, 2011. The majority fails to demonstrate -- nor could it, in light of the record -- how Rudin acted with reasonable diligence for the duration of the relevant time period.

Pitaro could not be reached for comment due to his court schedule. Amador was not immediately available for comment.

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