All of Celeste Beard’s possessions from her years of wealth and extravagant spending now fit in a single, small closet.
“That’s quite a fall from the fairy-tale life,” says friend Marilou.
And as friends and foes gather on the first day of her murder trial, Celeste risks losing something money can’t buy -- her freedom.
“Celeste is innocent, and it’s all on my shoulders,” says DeGuerin, Celeste’s lawyer.
“A lot of people think the Bible says that money is the root of all evil,” says co-prosecutor Gary Cobb. “And what the Bible actually says is that the love of money is the root of all evil. Celeste Beard loved money more than she loved anything else. Because of that, she had Steve Beard killed.”
“She couldn’t stand Steve Beard,” says lead prosecutor Allison Weitzel, in her opening statement. “She talked to people about how she hated him. He disgusted her.”
Weitzel says while Celeste hated her husband, she loved his money, and used her lover, Tracey Tarlton, to get it.
“What happened here is a simple case of a greedy, manipulative defendant who took advantage of a mentally ill woman who was in love with her,” says Weitzel. “She told Tracey that with Steve gone, they could be together.”
“This is a case of fatal attraction. It’s a case of obsession,” says DeGuerin, Celeste’s attorney. “Tracey Tarlton is psychotic. She’s been diagnosed as having delusions, as hearing voices that aren’t there, as seeing things that aren’t there.”
DeGuerin made the case that Tracey had a mental condition that created rich fantasies that led to murder: “The sexual relationship existed solely in Tracey’s mind. Tracey shot Steven Beard for her own selfish and sick reasons.”
The prosecution first wants the jury to focus on Celeste’s money motive.
Steven Beard’s attorney, David Kuperman, who drew up the family will, testifies that Celeste stood to inherit millions more dollars in cash and property if Steven died.
“On his death, the half interest in the homes, the tangible personal property and the club memberships, and $500,000 would go outright to Celeste," says Kuperman.
Prosecutors say in the spring of 1999, six months before the shooting, Celeste chose murder over divorce as the best way to cash in on Steven’s fortune.
Crucial to the prosecution’s case of manipulation and murder is to prove Tracey’s claims of a sexual relationship with Celeste.
“She needed me. And I know that attracted me,” says Tracey.
“They would gaze at each other lovingly and it wasn’t the kind of affection that platonic girlfriends would share,” says Brandy Whitten, a co-worker of Tracey’s who saw the two of them together at a party just a few months before Steven was shot.
“They were very affectionate together,” says Whitten. “At one point, Celeste was sitting on Tracey’s lap and I saw Celeste nuzzle Tracey’s ear.”
Tracey says she was in love with Celeste, and that at the time, Tracey thought Celeste was in love with her. In fact, Celeste once bought a card that said, “To the one I love.” But she didn’t give it to her husband, Steven. She gave it to Tracey instead.
“I did love Tracey, as a friend,” says Celeste. “I cared very much for Tracey, as a friend.”
DeGuerin says it was Tracey who was the manipulator. He claims Tracey would get Celeste high on alcohol or marijuana brownies, and then try to seduce her.
“Celeste came onto me as much as I came onto Celeste,” says Tracey.
But when Tracey Tarlton takes the stand, DeGuerin has a surprise for her and the prosecution. DeGuerin had Tracey’s secret diary.
DeGuerin: In fact, you’d kind of forgotten about the existence of this journal. Right?
Tracey: Until you brought it up, yes.
In the pages of her journal, Tracey writes of her most private feelings. But something important is missing.
DeGuerin: Is there a single journal entry in which you say, “It finally happened. We finally had sex.”
Tracey testifies that from the first day they met, Celeste often complained that Steven was abusive toward her.
“I just saw this woman that I loved in a desperate situation trying to find a way to survive this man that was so awful,” says Tracey on the stand.
Tracey says she wanted to help. She also says Celeste had an idea.
“She had a plan. She wanted me to shoot him at Toro Canyon with my shot gun,” says Tracey. “I was willing to shoot him, and I went and did it.”
Tracey then said that she walked into Steve’s room, stood at the foot of his bed, raised her gun “and took aim where I was supposed to take aim and pulled the trigger. What I was thinking about was Celeste’s instructions. I was thinking about Celeste.”
But Celeste denies ever giving Tracey instructions to kill her husband: “I don’t know why Tracey shot my husband.”
However, Katina Lofton, who shared a cell with Tracey for two months, says she knows why.
“She loved Celeste but Celeste didn’t love her,” says Lofton, who says Tracey was out to punish Celeste for refusing her sexual advances. “She just said that Celeste wasn’t going to live happily ever after while she rotted in jail.”
Although Lofton’s testimony gives Celeste hope, two other witnesses -- her twin daughters -- will leave her in despair.
“Well, she would sometimes make comments like, ‘Why doesn’t he just die already,’ says Celeste’s daughter, Kristina.
According to their mother, Kristina and Jennifer Beard were not out to defend her -- they were here to destroy her.
“She said that she married Steve for his money,” says daughter, Jennifer.
“It was kind of hard to keep up because she was always lying about something,” adds daughter Kristina.
“I just can’t imagine any child getting up on the stand and being able to do that to their mother,” says Celeste, crying.
“Obviously, I was a horrible mother. I mean, I have to admit that, because my kids wouldn’t be like they are today, if I wasn’t a bad mother. But I did the best I knew how.”
During several days of detailed testimony, the twins back up many of Tracey Tarlton’s claims, beginning with Celeste’s true feelings for Steven.
“She would say that he disgusted her,” says Kristina.
The girls also said they had suspicions about Celeste and Tracey’s friendship. Jennifer said that Celeste would sneak out at night and head to Tracey’s house after drugging Steve with sleeping pills.
“I saw her break apart the sleeping pill and put it in his baked potato,” says Jennifer.
What would make Celeste’s own children betray her? Celeste says her daughters are lying about everything, even their claims that they loved Steven.
“They’re the ones that talked behind his back. They hated Steven. They thought he was old. They thought he was no fun,” says Celeste. “I used to beg them, ‘Call him dad. He would love for you to call him dad.’ And they refused.”
“I hate to admit it, but the only reason why they could have turned on me was for the money. I mean, I have to face that fact,” adds Celeste.
Celeste says that if she’s convicted, the twins would get a share of her inheritance -- an estimated $2 million each. But if Celeste goes free, Steven Beard’s will calls for the girls to get significantly less.
“They have two million reasons to lie,” says Celeste.
Weitzel, lead prosecutor, disagrees. “I do not agree, for a minute, that they’re motivated by money. I think those girls, the growing up they had to do with the defendant, is just something that’s almost too horrible to imagine.”