BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Leslie Chance was an educator and the primary breadwinner of her household, respected in the community and raising three daughters with her husband at their southwest Bakersfield home.
She’s now a convicted murderer faced with the prospect of spending the rest of her life behind bars.
A Kern County jury on Thursday found Chance, 52, guilty of first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting death of her husband.
She faces up to 50 years to life at her March 2 sentencing.
Chance appeared to mouth something as the verdict was read, then faced straight ahead, her face expressionless. Her daughters cried in the audience.
Defense lawyer Tony Lidgett held his head in his hands after the verdict was read.
Afterward, an emotional Lidgett said he was confident his client would be acquitted. The verdict shocked him, he said, especially after a couple jurors smiled at him and Chance as they entered the courtroom before it was read.
“I have three kids out there that know that their mother is innocent,” Lidgett said of Chance’s daughters. “If the three kids even suspected that their mom was responsible for killing their dad, none of them would have helped in their mother’s defense.”
He said Chance’s daughters were so confident of her acquittal they were already making plans about picking her up and spending the weekend with her.
“I am shocked by the decision,” he said. “I truly came here hoping, thinking that it was a not guilty verdict, and when they read it, I’m just numb.”
Multiple people, including her children and longtime friends, testified a person seen in surveillance videos — the person who prosecutors said was Chance caught on camera as she made her way home after the killing — was in fact not the defendant.
“If that’s not reasonable doubt, I don’t know what is,” Lidgett said.
Deputy District Attorney Art Norris, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant District Attorney Andrea Kohler, said the jury made the correct decision.
He said the facts of the case point to one person and one person only as the killer: Leslie Chance.
“I feel wonderful,” Norris said. “I feel extremely relieved. It’s a long and arduous case. It’s been a long time coming and I think the jury, bless all of them, they really really worked hard and they listened attentively to a case that took a long time to put on.”
Prosecutors said Chance killed Todd Chance, 45, after discovering flirtatious text messages between him and an ex-girlfriend to whom he’d been engaged years ago. Nude photos from the woman were also on the phone.
Chance plotted the murder well in advance of Aug. 25, 2013, the day she drove with her husband in his Ford Mustang to an almond orchard off Enos lane, shot him and left his body, prosecutors said. She abandoned the car with the keys and murder weapon inside.
She left the car outside a house known to be frequented by drug users in the hopes that one of them would take it and be blamed for the murder, prosecutors said.
Surveillance footage, prosecutors said, captured Chance as she made her way home by walking and taxi.
Chance maintained she never left her home the morning of her husband’s Aug. 25, 2013, killing. She testified she had no idea he had reconnected with the ex-girlfriend, and said they had no issues in their relationship.
Chance, principal of Fairview Elementary School at the time, was originally arrested days after the murder but released due to insufficient evidence.
She was rearrested in 2016, and has remained in custody ever since.