July 05, 2004 12:00 PM

Her attorney told the court that he had advised her not to testify. But nothing, apparently, was going to prevent master grifter Sante Kimes from trying to weave her spell on the jury. Taking the stand on June 21 in a Los Angeles courtroom, where she is on trial for the murder of businessman David Kazdin, Kimes was by turns weepy and defiant. She referred to prosecutor Eleanor Hunter as “D.A. Death” and extolled her son Kenneth as a “wonderful boy.” Declared Kimes: “He is what America calls a hero!”

A strange way to describe Kenneth, who has confessed to three murders, but then the two have a strange relationship. Four years ago, while on trial for the 1998 murder of Irene Silverman in New York City, Sante and Kenny held hands in court. Now they are at odds: In a plea deal, Kenny, 29, agreed to testify against Sante, 69, in the killing of Kazdin, also in 1998. Yet in letters Sante refers to Kenny as “my soul mate.” And Kenny, who contends that Sante put him up to the murder of Kazdin, said on the stand of his mother, “I think she manipulates me, but I think she loves me…I hope.”

If Sante loves anything as much as Kenny, it may well be courtroom psychodrama. During the Kazdin trial she has wept copiously, screamed out that one witness is “a murdering liar,” and, when prosecutor Hunter hinted that Sante and Kenny had an incestuous relationship, Sante decried her “filthy mind.” On the first day that Kenny was scheduled to take the stand for the prosecution, Sante suddenly complained of chest pains and had to be rushed to a hospital. But tests failed to disclose any medical problem, prompting a doctor to temporarily take away the wheelchair she had been given and for Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell to admonish her the next day to refrain from such “fake displays.” Indignant, Sante asked to say something. Snapped the judge: “I would like you not to say anything.”

The alleged plot against Kazdin was a complex swindle, involving a fraudulent loan taken out in his name and an arson job for insurance money. When Kazdin, 63, who ran a photocopying business, got wise to the scheme, Kenny testified, his mother decided he had to be eliminated. Kenny said he shot Kazdin in the back of the head and then, with the help of a homeless man named Shawn Little, tossed the body in a trash bin. When asked if his family had a motto, Kenny replied, “No body, no crime.”

So why did Kenny decide to rat out his beloved mom? (Sante faces life without parole; she and Kenny are already serving at least 120 years each in New York for their conviction in the Silverman case.) The reasons remain a little hazy, but Kenny himself has offered one possibility, suggesting that he wanted to finally put an end to the “media circus” that has engulfed the pair in recent years. But in that regard, Kenny may have miscalculated. Says Kent Walker, 41, Kenny’s half brother, who has published his own tell-all about Sante: “There’s absolutely nothing, including capital punishment, that will punish my mother more than having her sons turn on her.”

Bill Hewitt. Lyndon Stambler in Los Angeles

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