MILTON, Fla. -- A woman accused of dumping her paralyzed son out of a canoe and drowning him took out more than $100,000 in life insurance policies on him just months he died, insurance officials testified today.
Judi Buenoano, 40, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., is on trial for the murder of her son, Michael Goodyear, 19, who drowned on a canoe trip May 13, 1980.
Agents from Prudential Life Insurance Co. and Metropolitan Life testified today that Ms. Buenoano was listed as beneficiary on policies taken out on her son as late as April 1980.
John W. Burgess, claims consultant with Metropolitan Life, said Ms. Buenoano also filed for a re-issuance of life insurance policies of more than $20,000 taken out on the boy in 1962 and in 1964.
Stanley Ball, senior claims officer with Prudential, said his company paid Ms. Buenaono $85,000 on life insurance policies taken out in October 1979 and March 1978 on her son.
Unless there is cause for suspicion, 'such as a police report or newspaper clippings,' the company would not investigate the death before issuing the insurance checks, said Ball.
Prosecutors say the former nurse and manicure shop owner was 'ashamed and embarrassed of her son' and plotted his murder to collect $125,000 in insurance benefits.
In opening statements, prosecuting attorney Russell Edgar told 12 jurors that Ms. Buenoano poisoned her son with arsenic and then dumped him, wearing heavy braces and no life preserver, from the canoe.
The victim was paralyzed from the elbows to his fingers and knees to his toes but had limited use of his arms and could operate his wheelchair.
Doctors have testified Michael's paralysis -- which a witness said developed in 1979 -- was the result of unidentified toxins, but they could not determine their source.
Defense attorney James Johnston told the jury Ms. Buenoano is 'a fine person and a loving mother' and did not kill her son or anyone else.
It was just coincidence, Johnston said, that Ms. Buenoano's son, husband and two boyfriends died during the past 12 years.
In addition to Michael's murder, Ms. Buenoano is suspected -- but not charged -- in the deaths of:
Her husband, James Edgar Goodyear, 37, of Orlando, Fla., who died Sept. 16, 1971; her boyfriend Bobby Joe Morris, 37, who died Jan. 28, 1978, in Trinidad, Colo.; and another boyfriend, Gerald Dossett, 48, who died Feb. 4, 1980, in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Johnston said the canoe trip was not part of a murder plot but a pleasure trip to give Michael 'the one thing he had longed for.' He said the canoe capsizing was an accident.
Ms. Buenoano's youngest son, James, 17, testified last week the canoe overturned when a fishing line began entangled in a tree and pulled a branch with a snake on it into the boat. He said the canoe hit a log and capsized in the confusion caused by the snake in the boat.
Saturday, former babysitter Constance Lang testified Ms. Buenoano was ashamed of Michael and hid him when company was expected.
'Michael just didn't behave as any normal child his age would behave,' Mrs. Lang said. 'He was hyperactive, he slobbered a lot, he was messy.'
Michael was born to Ms. Buenoano and Air Force Sgt. Arthur Leroy Schulz in 1961 in Texas, records show. Although Ms. Buenoano never married Schulz, he adopted the boy in 1965.
Schulz died four months ago in Satellite Beach, Fla. It is not known why Michael took the name of Goodyear, Ms. Buenoano's former husband, who died in 1971.