In their last effort to convince jurors that Leslie Chance is a murderer who shot her husband and dumped his body in a rural orchard, Kern County prosecutors Wednesday continued their cross-examination of the former elementary school teacher and principal, asking why she didn’t cry more when she learned her husband was dead and if she had ditched his sleek sports car with the murder weapon inside in a random neighborhood hoping it would be stolen and the murder never solved.
But throughout the prosecution’s questioning, Leslie Chance remained unruffled and responded calmly and directly, disagreeing with prosecutor Andrea Kohler’s assertions.
Witness testimony is winding down in the case, in which prosecutors allege Chance murdered her husband after learning he had rekindled a romance by text with his former high school sweetheart. The defense rested on Wednesday and the prosecution was expected to call rebuttal witnesses Thursday. Chance is accused of driving with her husband in his beloved Ford Mustang to a remote area the morning of Aug. 25, 2013, then shooting him and leaving him next to an orchard. Prosecutors say she then drove the car to a southwest Bakersfield neighborhood, left it there and headed home on foot and by taxi, disguising herself along the way. Chance is charged with first-degree murder. If convicted, she could face life in prison.
The prosecution has presented surveillance videos of a person they say is Chance walking through various neighborhoods and entering a Starbucks and Walmart on her way home from the location where Todd Chance’s car was found. Several witnesses, including Todd Chance’s parents, have said they recognize the person in the video as Leslie Chance. Chance’s three daughters have testified it was not her. It was also revealed during the trial that sheriff’s investigators never entered into evidence some interviews in which people who knew Leslie Chance said they didn’t believe it was her in the video.
On the witness stand this week, Chance has denied knowing about her husband’s texts with another woman at that time. She was home the morning of his death, she said, working on a safety plan for the elementary school where she was principal and doing laundry.
In court Wednesday morning, Kohler pressed Leslie Chance about her reactions to her husband’s death that day. She played audio of a recording a sheriff’s detective made when Leslie Chance and the parents of Todd Chance were notified of Todd’s death. Numerous voices could be heard, as well as sobbing, and Todd’s parents asking when and where his body was found.
Kohler asked Leslie Chance to confirm that the crying was her daughter’s, not hers, to which Chance said she was unsure. When Kohler insisted it was only her daughter crying, Chance said, “I believe we both were.”
Kohler then said, “You never asked throughout the entire notification if your husband of 17 years had suffered, if he was conscious or asked about you and the girls.”
Chance responded by saying those topics had been discussed prior to when the detective started recording.
Kohler also suggested Chance was surprised when sheriff’s detectives said they’d found Todd Chance’s cell phone and had located his car in a southwest neighborhood.
“Isn’t it true you thought when you left the vehicle over on Dennen Street with the gun, that that vehicle would be stolen and never traced back to you?”
Chance lowered her head to the microphone, looked out at Kohler and replied: “No ma’am.”
When Kohler finished and defense attorney Tony Lidgett again resumed questioning, Leslie Chance spoke of feeling fearful the first night her husband had died, worried someone could have obtained their house keys or garage door remote from her husband’s car. She and her daughters slept together that night and she recalled getting up to check for the keys and at one point to put a chair up against the door leading from the house to the garage to guard against intruders.
Jurors also saw Leslie Chance start to weep when she later spoke of missing her husband’s funeral. After her arrest in the case a few days after Todd Chance’s death, she said she was advised by her attorney not to attend his funeral and that her husband was ultimately buried in Shafter by a railroad track instead of at Greenlawn near her mother.
Closing statements in the trial are scheduled for Tuesday.
Editor's Note: This story was changed to reflect that rebuttal witness would be called on Thursday.