Irvine woman found guilty of murdering her 92-year-old mother

An Irvine woman was convicted Friday of drowning her 92-year-old mother, who was found face down in a swimming pool in 2018.

Prosecutors argued that Cynthia Strange, 70, was hoping to secure her inheritance and avoid paying back a debt when she went to her mother Ruth Strange's Huntington Beach home, stabbed her in the head and hauled her across the patio to the pool.

While the Orange County Superior Court jury found Strange guilty of first-degree murder, it rejected the prosecutor's contention that she committed the crime for financial gain.

Leaving the motive unresolved, the verdict had the hallmark of a compromise among jurors who had begun deliberating Tuesday after a seven-week trial that relied heavily on circumstantial evidence.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Nicholas Thomo told jurors that Cynthia Strange was jobless, dependent on her mother's money and fearful of being cut out of her will.

"If she kills Mom before Mom takes her out of that will, that money is hers," Thomo said.

Amy Hamilton, the defendant's sister, went to her mother's house on the morning of Sept. 4, 2018, to take her to a doctor's appointment.

She found the garage door open, which made her suspicious, and when her mother didn't answer her calls, she summoned police.

Police entered the house and found blood in the bathroom, blood on the floor and blood soaking a reclining chair. Ruth Strange's body was in the pool.

An autopsy showed that she had been stabbed six times in the head, but drowning was the official cause of death.

While Cynthia Strange left her cellphone at home in Irvine on the night of the killing, apparently to confuse detectives, surveillance cameras put her in her mother's Huntington Beach neighborhood, the prosecutor said.

And police said shoe print patterns found at the crime scene matched the Orthofeet brand the defendant was known to wear.

During the trial, jurors heard voicemail messages that Ruth Strange had left for her daughter Amy Hamilton a day or so before her death, saying Cynthia was outside her house.

"I'm afraid," she said in a panicked voice. "I don't know what she's up to .... Please answer. I need help ... She is in the driveway ..."

Though the defendant, slumped forward in a wheelchair throughout the trial, did not testify, it was her own voice that might have sealed her conviction.

She could be heard on recordings of Google searches she made before her mother's death. In one, she asked, "Hey Google, what's the average age at death of an American woman?" In another: "How do you break a neck?"

She inquired about "signs of being smothered," about the effects of injecting a person with air, about the difference between a bruise from a fall and a bruise from being struck.

"These are not innocent searches," Thomo said, arguing that Cynthia Strange had shown a consciousness of guilt by attempting to erase her search history.

Asst. Public Defender Sara Ross suggested that Strange's sister, who was not charged, was the real killer, motivated by the $2-million inheritance.

"Amy Hamilton had 2 million reasons to want her mother dead," Ross said.

The defense attorney described Hamilton as a "grifter" who had manipulated her mother into changing the family trust to favor her and had deceived the older woman into believing that Cynthia meant her harm.

"She was bleeding Ruth dry the last several years of Ruth's life," she said of Hamilton. "She's desperate for money, but she doesn't want to work."

Hamilton invoked the 5th Amendment rather than testify at trial, and Judge Lewis Clapp told jurors not to speculate about why.

Ross argued that her client was physically incapable of what prosecutors alleged. She suffers from arthritis and had shoulder surgery six weeks before her mother's death, making it unlikely that she could drag or carry her mother to the pool, her lawyer said.

The defense struggled to explain away the incriminating Google searches. "She's searching a lot of weird stuff," Ross admitted. She said her client liked spy novels and true crime.

"None of [the searches] involve stabbing, drowning — the way Ruth was killed in this case."

Cynthia Strange faces 25 years to life in prison when Judge Clapp sentences her on July 12.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.