SANTA ANA — Nanette Packard-McNeal was described in court Monday by her own attorney as dishonest, unfaithful and only interested in men with money.
Those character flaws withstanding, she is not guilty of murder, argued public defender Mick Hill.
"She always had a lover on the side," Hill said. "Does that mean she's a killer? No."
Hill added that she would "never, ever leave Bill McLaughlin for someone with no money."
Packard-McNeal, 46, is accused of plotting with her lover, Eric Naposki, to kill her boyfriend McLaughlin, 55. She has pleaded not guilty.
Naposki, a former NFL linebacker, in a separate trial was convicted of murder in connection to McLaughlin's death.
Inside a Central Justice Center courtroom, prosecutors gave their opening statements asserting that greed motivated the crime that happened in December 1994.
About 20 years ago, Packard-McNeal began dating McLaughlin, Balboa Coves millionaire who made a small fortune on an invention that filters plasma from blood — something that Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy described as "revolutionary in its day."
Murphy said that Packard-McNeal took credit for the invention, and in the months leading up to McLaughlin's murder, she told several people that she was going to come into a large sum of money.
"She had a very big secret," Murphy said. "In fact, she had a 250-pound secret named Eric Naposki."
While dating McLaughlin, Packard-McNeal was also secretly dating Naposki, with whom she traveled to Chicago to meet her grandmother, to New York to celebrate Thanksgiving and to Washington, D.C., for a wedding — all on McLaughlin's dime, according to Murphy.
Hill said Naposki was jealous and unaware of Packard-McNeal's relationship with McLaughlin, and shortly before the businessman's death he asked a friend to follow her.
On a PowerPoint slide titled "Common Sense," Hill wrote: "If you are motivated by money, you will not kill the golden goose to be with the pauper."
With her rich boyfriend dead, Packard-McNeal's went straight into Naposki's arms, which Hill said explains her phone calls immediately after McLaughlin's death.
Pictures of McLaughlin's bullet-riddled body were projected onto a screen in Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg's courtroom.
Also on the screen as prosecutors presented their case were images of the $900,000 homes Naposki and Packard-McNeal visited when house hunting, although neither had any money independent of McLaughlin's, prosecutors asserted.
Jurors saw both presentations packed with images of McLaughlin with Packard-McNeal's children, and while prosecutors emphasized the callous nature of killing a loving family man, the defense illustrated McLaughlin's connection to Packard-McNeal's children as evidence that it was unlikely she would plot a cold-blooded murder in the days before Christmas.
But just as the holidays approached, Murphy said there was no present for McLaughlin under Packard-McNeal's tree and that she lied to police about buying him any gifts — proof she knew he wouldn't be there to open them.
Hill said her decision to shop at the last minute wasn't indicative of murder.
Since her 2009 arrest, Packard-McNeal's appearance has dramatically changed. Her hair, once straight and bleached, was pulled back into a long, curly brown ponytail, with one bright blonde streak down the middle. She sat attentively in a beige suit as the case against her began.
The trial is expected to last for four or five days.
Naposki was convicted of first-degree murder with a sentencing enhancement for financial gain in July. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 20 in the same courtroom. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.