STOCKTON - "She's lying," is how witness Greg Whalen portrayed another witness' accusation that she saw him kissing Larry McNabney's wife, Laren Sims, at horse show in late September 2001.
McNabney was allegedly killed by Sims and his secretary Sarah Dutra shortly after a Sept. 10 horse show in the City of Industry by poisoning his soup with a powerful horse tranquilizer, according to law enforcement authorities. Sims committed suicide last year while in police custody in Florida following a nationwide manhunt.
Dutra is on trial in Stockton Superior Court, accused of helping Sims murder McNabney. Because of the special circumstances - murder for financial gain - allegations filed by the prosecution, she faces life imprisonment if convicted.
Whalen was on the stand Friday as a defense witness having previously been called as a prosecution witness.
"What she said is so far overboard - it's an exaggeration," said Whalen, a 72-year-old Clements man who was a friend and horse trainer to both McNabney and Sims.
McNabney's body was found in a vineyard near Clements in February 2002. His wife eventually fled the area and was arrested in March 2002 in Florida. She hanged herself in a Florida jail cell soon after her arrest. Before her death, Sims wrote a seven page suicide note in which she implicated both herself and Dutra in McNabney's killing.
Defense attorney Kevin Clymo is attempting to paint a picture of Whalen as an accomplice in McNabney's slaying by claiming that Whalen was infatuated with Sims.
In the first day of the defense's case, Paula Muller testified Thursday she saw Sims and Whalen engaged in a passionate kiss at a horse show in Lancaster, just weeks after McNabney had allegedly left his wife to join a religious cult.
Clymo spent much of the day Friday trying to pick apart Whalen's earlier testimony delivered a few weeks ago when called to the stand by the prosecution and from a Feb. 28, 2002, taped interview that Whalen had given the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department.
Dutra, wearing braided pony tails, watched emotionless in court as trial moved into its sixth week.
In the 60-minute taped interview, which was shown to the jury, Whalen denies receiving a refrigerator - the one allegedly used to store McNabney's body in for a few months before he was finally buried in the shallow vineyard grave. Whalen later changed his testimony saying he was only trying to protect an employee who had taken the refrigerator, among other expensive items, from McNabney's Woodbridge house.
When Whalen's employee took the items - at Sims' offering - Whalen was present, although he didn't divulge that information in the taped interview with sheriff's officials.
When Clymo asked Whalen why he hadn't offered that fact, Whalen shrugged and said, "Nobody asked me."
Clymo drilled Whalen about his alleged affair with Sims, something that Whalen steadfastly denied. Whalen admitted it's commonplace for horse show winners to get excited and hug one another. He said the notion of an affair is just a rumor that has floated through horse competition circles.
Whalen had previously acted as if he barely saw Sims during the five months in between McNabney's disappearance and the discovery of his body. However, under continued questioning by Clymo, Whalen admitted to attending the Lancaster show with Sims alone and visiting her house twice to help remove items - although he said he never actually touched the items, he just provided the truck and trailer.
Furthermore, Whalen admitted to seeing Sims at a handful of horse shows in Las Vegas and Oklahoma - and for the last time in Arizona.
Sims' daughter, Haylei Jordan, testified in late January she was with her mom in Arizona when they met up with Whalen, who gave them $300.
While in Arizona, Whalen is alleged to have received a phone call from his wife, Mary, who said the police had visited their Clements ranch asking questions about McNabney. Sims and her daughter fled Arizona soon after.
Whalen denies receiving the phone call in Sims' presence or giving her the $300. In fact, he said, his employee gave Sims the money. Also, he said Sims reportedly conned Whalen's employee into paying for her hotel room in Arizona.
Whalen did admit to helping his employee gather Sims' horse riding clothes and gear and storing it in a horse trailer while in Arizona - another fact that he hadn't mentioned when questioned by sheriff's personnel.
Clymo also wanted to know why Whalen had allegedly failed to divulge certain elements of his last meeting with Sims.
Whalen, who oftentimes had trouble hearing the questions, said he was trying to protect his employees, one of whom he felt had been conned by Sims.
"But you weren't conned, right?" Clymo asked rhetorically.
Friday's testimony marked the end of the sixth week in the high-profile murder case.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Stockton.
Comments about this story? Send mail to the News-Sentinel newsroom.
To subscribe to the Lodi News-Sentinel, fill out our online form or call our Subscriber Services Department at (209) 333-1400.