A Sonoma County jury on Tuesday found a Sonoma Valley man guilty of voluntary manslaughter for strangling his wife of 36 years last year.
Jurors rejected the prosecution’s first-degree murder charge against Steven Rothschild, who was arrested for the Aug. 4, 2017 killing of his wife, Juanita Rothschild, in their Boyes Hot Springs home.
A murder conviction could have sent Rothschild, 73, to prison for the remainder of his life. It required the prosecution to show at trial Rothschild committed a premeditated act of violence against his wife.
The six-woman, six-man jury found Rothschild guilty of a lesser crime, felony voluntary manslaughter, after finding the evidence and testimony from mental health professionals supported Rothschild’s contention he snapped after years of emotional abuse by his wife.
Rothschild will be sentenced Oct. 30 by Judge Dana Simonds. He faces up to 11 years in state prison.
“They didn’t come to the conclusion I would have wanted, but they considered the evidence thoroughly and I respect their decision,” Deputy District Attorney Javier Vaca said outside the courtroom.
Friends of Juanita Rothschild followed the case closely and attended portions of the five-day trial. After the jury’s verdict, Al and Judy Bayless of Sonoma Valley said they were disappointed and thought the punishment should have been more severe.
“I’m horrified,” Judy Bayless said. “A white rich man wins again.”
“I’m ticked off,” Al Bayless said. “But that doesn’t bring Nita back.”
Rothschild admitted to a 911 dispatcher the night of her strangulation that he killed his wife. His defense never was one of innocence, rather that he cracked after withstanding years of tirades from his wife.
The night he killed her, Rothschild testified, they had seen a concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park and Juanita Rothschild berated him on the long drive home for sitting down before she had exited the restroom and asking to leave when she was still talking to friends.
After the verdict, jurors gathered with attorneys from the defense and prosecution to discuss their decision, which they reached after about three days of deliberation.
Ultimately, the prosecution didn’t show any evidence Rothschild’s attack on his wife was premeditated or that he intended to kill her, multiple jurors said.
One of the jurors, Cheryl Wofford, 64, of Santa Rosa said she thought Rothschild snapped. Wofford said she and her fellow jurors focused on the differences between second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, all felony crimes that involve a killing committed with different levels of intention on the part of the perpetrator.
During the trial, prosecutors argued Rothschild committed a premeditated killing and should be sentenced to life in prison.
“For me, I felt the prosecution never showed intent,” Wofford said.
The last element of the case the jury considered Tuesday before announcing the verdict was the testimony from a mental health professional who described a possibility that Rothschild went into a state of disassociation triggered by post-traumatic stress after years of abuse.
During the trial, Rothschild testified he had to recite a statement each morning to his wife praising her, and that she routinely started the day by describing his character flaws.