A man who hired gang members to gun down his state corrections officer bride in Anaheim was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in state prison.
A jury last September found 53-year-old Nuzzio Begaren guilty of the cold case conspiracy murder of his wife Elizabeth in 1998 to collect a $1 million life insurance policy.
As for the gang members who actually carried out the hit made to look like a roadside ambush: Jose Luis Sandoval, who testified against Begaren, pleaded guilty last October to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to time already served behind bars; Rudy Duran, another key witness in the trial, has a court hearing this week and is expected to accept a plea bargain; and alleged triggerman Guillermo Espinoza, 38, is a fugitive who faces the same charges as Begaren.
Begaren had bought a $1 million life insurance policy on Elizabeth Wheat Begaren within days of marrying her but begged off getting insurance for his own life. Then, after moving in with her and a daughter from a previous marriage in Lancaster, Nuzzio Begaren began dating a waitress at a nearby restaurant and telling her he was unhappily married. He would go on to recruit gang members to kill his wife, a corrections officer in the prison system's internal affairs division.
On Jan. 17, 1998, Begaren, his wife and his 10-year-old daughter went to a Macy's in Burbank, where he encouraged Elizabeth to carry $5,000 in cash in her purse. But the purpose was not to have money to burn shopping but so that it would appear more credible when she was robbed (and her killers were paid) before the slaying.
Espinoza and Sandoval followed the Begaren family's Kia Sportage in a 1985 Buick Regal and, around 11 p.m. off the 91 freeway in Anaheim, the Kia was forced off the road by the Buick. As Nuzzio Begaren huddled with his daughter in the back of the car, Elizabeth tried to run from the vehicle but was shot in the face and chest and died. The father and daughter were unharmed.
Begaren would go on to collect most of that life insurance money. But investigators found a sheet of paper torn in four pieces that had the Buick's license plate number and Begaren's fingerprint. The license plate belonged to a car registered to Sandoval.
The defense unsuccessfully argued the gang members who testified against Begaren were not credible. But prosecutor Larry Yellin says those witnesses grew up and out of the gang lifestyle since the slaying and wanted to cooperate with prosecutors.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.