Seven months after she was found lying on a street near her husband’s body, the widow of a wealthy software designer was charged Wednesday in a murder-for-hire plot that allegedly included a made-up carjacking.
Rebecca Cleland, who married Bruce Cleland in January 1997, was charged with one count of murder with the special circumstances of murder for financial gain and lying in wait.
She is being held without bail and could face the death penalty.
“It was a very brutal murder,” Detective Rick Peterson said. “And it was motivated by financial gain. This was no carjacking.”
Rebecca Cleland had told investigators she was knocked unconscious by carjackers July 26 and awoke to the sight of her husband in a pool of blood.
Cleland, 43, was shot on the passenger side of his car, then shot again repeatedly in the head as he attempted to escape.
Although Rebecca Cleland said an assailant hit her over the head, paramedics could find no evidence that she was injured, detectives said. After giving a brief statement to police, detectives said, Rebecca Cleland refused to be interviewed further.
“Her position is the same as it has been from the very beginning,” said her attorney, Raul Ayala. “She doesn’t know who committed this tragedy and she has been wrongly and falsely accused in her husband’s death.”
Cleland, who earned more than $100,000 a year working for a Redondo Beach software firm, was worth about $1 million at the time of his death.
Police tracked down insurance policies Rebecca Cleland had taken out on her husband and found people who said she had solicited them to kill him, homicide detectives said. They said there was at least one accomplice and that they may make another arrest.
Rebecca Cleland, 28, took an odd route home the night her husband was killed, police said. She had driven at least four miles out of the way to a freeway on-ramp at the end of a deserted residential street, according to investigators.
The couple came from different worlds. Rebecca Salcedo grew up in Maywood, a blue-collar city near Los Angeles.
Relatives said Cleland, a shy engineer from South Pasadena who went to Stanford, had fallen quickly for the woman 15 years his junior. Within a week of meeting her at an air show in December 1995, she wanted to get married, his parents said.
The couple soon had a 3,200-square-foot hillside ranch house in Whittier, two new cars and a boat for water skiing. There were trips to Hawaii and Australia and cosmetic surgery for Rebecca Cleland.
“He gave her everything she wanted,” said his mother, Theda Cleland.
Within months, his parents said, the marriage soured. By June, he told his parents he had given up on the relationship and asked for a lawyer to begin divorce proceedings. The night he was killed, his parents said, he met with his wife to try to work things out.