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Prosecutors say Stafford County woman killed husband for insurance money
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Prosecutors say Stafford County woman killed husband for insurance money

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Stafford County prosecutors yesterday began trying to prove Erin McCay George carried out a devious scheme to kill her husband in an attempt to collect $700,000 in insurance money.

James Charles Hamilton George, 27, was found lying in his yard on Manila Cove in Aquia Harbour the morning of May 24, 2001, with a bullet wound to the back of his head.

He'd been shot at close range, probably from a distance of no more than six inches, a forensic scientist testified yesterday. No weapon has been found.

Erin George, 34, is charged with first-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

There was no testimony about the insurance policy during the opening day of George's trial in Stafford Circuit Court.

But in his opening argument, prosecutor Eric Olsen promised the jurors they'd hear all about it before the scheduled three-day trial is over.

According to court records, James George had applied for a policy with USAA Life Insurance Co. in San Antonio, Texas, in the month before he died.

Olsen said George suspended the application process after a physical administered by the company revealed that George was a smoker and would be subject to higher rates.

Olsen said Erin George later reapplied for the policy without her husband's knowledge. She carefully forged her husband's name, Olsen said, and paid a premium from a separate checking account that she had.

The $700,000 policy naming Erin George as the beneficiary was issued within a week of James George's death, court records state. Olsen said Erin George had called the company several times, including once a day or two before the shooting, to make sure the policy was in effect.

Mark Gardner, one of George's attorneys, said in his opening statement that the defense would show that James George was aware that his wife had forged his signature.

He said that was a common practice in the marriage because she handled most of the business.

Gardner said police mistakenly zeroed in on Erin George as a suspect early on and have tried to make the evidence support their theory.

"There is way more here than just reasonable doubt," Gardner said.

Among the prosecution witnesses yesterday were an inmate who claimed that Erin George confessed to the slaying while in jail and a forensic expert who said the bullet fragments found in the victim's head matched bullets purchased by Erin George in May 1997.

Julian Mason Jr., the scientist, said the bullet used to kill James George was a specific type of 9 mm, hollow-point bullet.

Erin George purchased a gun and those same type of bullets on May 25, 1997, at a store in Woodbridge.

Gardner did not dispute that his client made the purchase, but suggested that she did so for her husband because he was not a U.S. citizen.

In response to questions from Gardner, Mason acknowledged that there are countless guns and bullets in the country like the ones George purchased.

Karen E. Rader was a cellmate of Erin George's in the Rappahannock Regional Jail for about two weeks in September.

Rader told the jury that George admitted killing her husband because he wouldn't give her a divorce.

Rader also said that George, who was known as a "goody-goody" in jail, told her that she'd thrown the gun into a pond near her home.

"The [expletive] deserved what he got," Rader quoted George as saying.

Gardner repeatedly attacked the 38-year-old Rader's credibility, pointing out that she didn't come forward with her story until last month--nearly nine months later.

Rader also admitted that she had previously told detectives and private investigators that George had made no such confession.

Rader, who cried several times on the witness stand, has nine felony convictions and is still incarcerated.

The Georges and their young children had lived in Aquia Harbour only a short time before the slaying.

Erin George told police she'd last seen her husband about 11:30 the previous night when they went outside to look for their lost dog.

George told police that when they couldn't find the dog, they returned home and she went to bed.

A neighbor testified yesterday that she heard a single shot sometime around midnight. She didn't immediately report it because she heard nothing else.

Erin George grew up in Braehead Woods in Fredericksburg and attended Longwood College. James George was a citizen of England. They'd been married about six years, according to testimony.

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