Putting a ring on her finger has ended badly for 75 percent of Emma Raine's husbands.
But as the three-time widow stood trial for murder Wednesday in New Orleans in the shooting death of her second spouse, Ernest Smith, a decade ago, her attorney told a jury she's guilty of nothing more than a dismal choice in men.
Raine, 52, sat at the defense table in a Kelly green jacket and crisp white shirt as an Orleans Parish prosecutor cast her as a "black widow" driven by insurance money.
At the opening of a trial expected to run through the week, Orleans Parish prosecutor Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue accused Raine and her then-boyfriend and future dead husband, James Raine, of orchestrating Smith's killing on April 15, 2006.
Smith, a local preacher and motorcycle enthusiast, had returned from a group ride when he was fatally shot twice in the chest in the doorway of his townhouse on Roger Drive, in a neighborhood of New Orleans East left nearly barren after Hurricane Katrina.
Emma was there to call 911 as Smith stumbled inside, spilling blood from a 9mm bullet to the heart.
James Raine's adopted stepbrother, Alfred “Terry” Everette, was convicted of second-degree murder in late 2014 for pulling the trigger on Smith, allegedly for a $10,000 bounty he never received.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro personally secured Everette's conviction alongside Rodrigue, Cannizzaro's daughter.
An impassioned closing argument by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro may have…
Rodrigue told a jury of eight women and four men Wednesday that Emma had steadily ratcheted up Smith's insurance policy over the years, from $100,000 to $800,000. After his killing, she spent a chunk of the proceeds to build a luxury house with a pool and "TVs in every room" in Poplarville, Mississippi, Rodrigue said.
"She takes the money to move to Mississippi, builds a mansion there, actually names a street after herself: Emma Lane," Rodrigue said.
She and James Raine would marry and live there together. But he too wound up dead, shot inside the mansion in 2011 while Emma was away on a short trip. Again, she collected on the insurance payout and then on the house after it burned down, prosecutors say.
Though she didn't mention it in court Wednesday, Rodrigue cast additional suspicion on Emma Raine during Everette's trial, telling a jury that Raine's first husband, Leroy Evans, was "mysteriously hit by a car," later became paraplegic and "mysteriously, his feeding tube had been removed."
Evans died in 1994, choking to death in his sleep, according to a Mississippi investigator who testified at Everette's trial. Emma collected on the life insurance.
According to the investigator, Lt. Brad Garrett, Emma Raine last increased the insurance level on Ernest Smith a few months before his death. By then, James Raine had been listed as the beneficiary for half of it.
The rest was to go to Smith’s estate. As it turned out, under Louisiana law that meant it would go to Smith’s daughter.
Rodrigue described it as "a hiccup in the plan." She said Emma Raine got her own biological daughter to pose as Smith’s daughter and forge her signature, then to turn over the insurance proceeds to Emma Raine. The daughter pleaded guilty to forgery in 2014 in Mississippi.
"I can assure you that in this particular case, we're going to need diagrams," Rodrigue told the jury Wednesday.
But defense attorney Martin Regan painted a very different portrait of Emma Raine, who has since remarried.
Regan noted that she's never been charged or publicly named as a suspect in James Raine's killing. He also described Smith, her slain second husband, as a philandering pastor without a church.
Smith's errant ways, Regan said, gave James Raine an opening to manipulate Emma's passions and convince her to alter Ernest Smith's insurance policy. Then, without her knowledge, James Raine plotted with Everette to kill her husband, Regan argued.
"There was dysfunction, disharmony, and let there be no doubt about it, he was not faithful," Regan said of Ernest Smith.
"It creates the opportunity for a worm to move into her life named James Raine," Regan said. "Let's talk about James. The guy who moved in on a married woman, seduced her, got her in bed. He moves in, takes her heart, figures he's going to make the money.
"James the Snake, in fact, had set her up to get the insurance," Regan said.
Police suspected Emma Raine early on in Smith's murder, based in part on what the first responding police officer, Sgt. Randi Gant, described Wednesday as her "calm, very calm" behavior after her husband's shooting death.
Although Ernest Smith was soaked in blood, Emma was spotless, and she locked herself in a car when a friend of Smith's showed up distraught over the killing, Gant testified. Emma told the officer she'd been upstairs in bed all day, suffering from a toothache.
The case went nowhere for years until James Raine's murder in 2011. Two of his uncles and a brother, suspecting Emma Raine, said they wheedled a confession from Everette about the earlier plot to kill Ernest Smith. Everette also promised he'd surrender to police, they said.
He never did, so the three relatives contacted a New Orleans Police Department cold case detective, DeCynda Barnes, leading to Everette's arrest in July 2013 and Emma Raine's arrest soon thereafter.
Prosecutors said they have granted Everette, who is now serving a life prison sentence, immunity for his testimony, but when he was brought to court Wednesday afternoon, he refused to take the witness stand or answer questions.
Another convict, Donald Glover, is expected to testify about an alleged jailhouse confession from Everette giving details of the hit job. Everette allegedly confessed to tossing the murder weapon into Lake Pontchartrain on his drive home to Mississippi.
Everette also allegedly complained that all he got for the killing was a pair of "clunker" cars -- a claim that Regan said points to Emma Raine's ignorance of a murder plot.
"If Emma thought in any way she was responsible, she would have given him $10,000. She could have taken it out of a cookie jar," Regan said. "Emma did not hire him. Emma did not ask him to do anything."
Meanwhile, Emma Raine is named in a 35-count federal indictment in Mississippi, accused of bankruptcy and tax fraud. A trial in that case has been delayed pending the outcome of the murder case.
She turned down an offer this week to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a 35-year prison sentence.