Steven Rothschild called 911 and told a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy his wife may be dead inside their home, saying “I got angry. I think I killed her,” the deputy testified Thursday.
But lawyers argued in a preliminary hearing in Sonoma County Superior Court whether there was enough evidence showing that the Boyes Hot Springs man had planned to kill Juanita Rothschild, or whether he strangled his wife of 36 years in the heat of the moment — a distinction that brings different punishments.
Prosecutors did not present a suspected motive in the Aug. 4 killing to Judge Dana Simonds during Thursday’s preliminary hearing in Sonoma County Superior Court, a proceeding for the judge to hear evidence and decide if there’s enough for a first degree murder trial.
Steven Rothschild’s attorney Stephen Gallenson argued there was no evidence supporting a first degree murder charge, which would mean the killing was premeditated and planed, a crime that can bring 25 years to life in prison. He said the case could involve a lesser charge of second degree murder, a crime involving malice but no premeditation.
Simonds agreed it wasn’t clear and ordered the lawyers to return to court June 5 and make arguments on the matter.
“We don’t know the motive. We don’t know if it was planned,” Simonds said. “We do know the method.”
Sheriff’s deputies responding to the late night Aug. 4 emergency call to the couple’s Sonoma Greens home found Juanita Rothschild, 67, slumped and bloodied on a couch in the couple’s living room, according to the testimony. She had been strangled to death.
Steven Rothschild, 73, who had bruised hands and knuckles, was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Both retired from the IT industry, Steven and Juanita Rothschild had been living on Amherst Circle since April 2014, and they previously lived in Truckee, Reno, Nev., Washington state and San Francisco, according to Gallenson.
An obituary for Juanita Rothschild said she worked most of her career for the American Automobile Association in San Francisco and retired as the only woman on the company’s IT executive team.
Several of the couple’s friends sat through Thursday’s proceeding, including three women wearing necklaces with her photo to honor their friend.
Judy Bayless of Sonoma Valley said the killing was “a total shock for everybody.” Bayless said they met through volunteer work for animal rescues.
“We thought they were a happy couple,” Bayless said.
Friends who knew the Rothschilds from their time living in Truckee said Juanita Rothschild brought animals to hospitals to officer therapeutic comfort to patients.
“Nobody knew too much about them on a personal level,” said Carol McNamara, a retired nurse from Truckee.
Deputy District Attorney Javier Vaca introduced no information during Thursday’s court hearing about what might have occurred that night between the married couple and focused on the physical evidence on Juanita Rothschild’s body.
Juanita Rothschild had significant bruises on her neck and head as well as broken bones in her neck and nose, injuries that are consistent with having been beaten and strangled with hands, said forensic pathologist Kimi Verilhac, who testified from the stand.
Deputy District Attorney Javier Vaca argued that during strangulation there was “ample time for the defendant to consider his actions.”
Rothschild will continue to be held on $2 million bail at the Main Adult Detention Facility in Santa Rosa while awaiting trial.