An 18-year-old transient charged with the murder of a Los Angeles police officer's wife has admitted he was present when she was sexually assaulted at a Fullerton park, but has denied that he was involved.
A North Municipal Court judge on Monday dismissed charges against the man, Scott Michael Katzin, but prosecutors immediately refiled the charges and he remained in custody.
Katzin's statements to police, made public Monday, were the first known details about how Maria Andrea Malmgreen, 38, of Brea might have died. Her body was found April 29 in the back seat of her abandoned car in Fullerton, a week after she had last been seen. She had been strangled.
Judge Daniel T. Brice, who had thrown out the charges Monday morning at the end of a two-day preliminary hearing, said after reviewing a videotape of Katzin's statements to Fullerton police that he appeared to be "fantasizing."
Another suspect, David Scott Pickering, 21, of Brea, was arrested last month and charged with murder in connection with the woman's death. He was released two weeks ago after prosecutors acknowledged that they had no evidence against him.
But Assistant Dist. Atty. Ed Freeman said his office feels differently about Katzin, despite Brice's decision to dismiss the charges.
Freeman said he refiled the charges because "we respect Judge Brice, but it's kind of like a situation with an umpire; we want a replay . . . we continue to believe we have sufficient evidence to hold Mr. Katzin."
Malmgreen, whose husband Russell is a judicial liaison officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, was last seen the morning of April 22, shortly after she took her 16-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son to school. A neighbor saw her return home shortly after 8 a.m. Police believe she then went to a nearby supermarket, and was probably abducted in the parking lot and taken to an isolated area of Craig Regional Park in Fullerton. Her body was found along a dirt road near an apartment complex in the vicinity of the park.
It was at the park, Katzin said, that he first saw Malmgreen arriving with three men. They got out of the car, Katzin told police, and he then saw the woman attacked.
Katzin first came to the attention of the police when he told a park employee what he had seen. The employee had been helping the police by asking anyone if they had any information about the woman's death.
Katzin was not arrested until May 7, after his picture had been circulated in the area and an employee at the supermarket where Malmgreen bought the groceries said that he had seen Katzin in the store numerous times.
Prosecutor Freeman said Katzin's statements to police about what he saw are inconsistent. One source close to the police investigation said Katzin at one point identified the three men he claims were with the woman. But all three turned out to be people Katzin had had disagreements with.
At the preliminary hearing in Brice's courtroom, prosecutors produced a jail-house informant who said Katzin told him that he was involved in Malmgreen's abduction and that he was "a lookout" during her attack who was supposed to warn the others if he saw anyone coming.
Freeman believes that Katzin's statements to the police, though inconsistent, are essentially accurate about what happened, except for his denial that he was involved.
Because the Malmgreens had set their mileage meter back to zero the night before her disappearance, Freeman said, police have been able to retrace the path the car took up to the point when she was found.
All but four-tenths of a mile can be accounted for, if the assault on the woman took place where Katzin said it did, Freeman said. Prosecutors contend they have an explanation for that four-tenths of a mile, too. That's about the distance it would take to drive from the point where she was killed to where Katzin claimed that he was standing when he saw the car.
Katzin's attorney, Ronald P. Kreber, said there are three possible versions of what happened: "He saw what happened, he was a lookout for others, or he's making the whole thing up."
Description Doesn't Fit
Kreber contends the last possibility is the most likely.
"His description of the woman's actions with the men before the attack took place just doesn't fit with Mrs. Malmgreen," Kreber said, pointing out that Katzin said the woman appeared to be friendly to the others. "I really believe there's a chance this young man was asked if he knew anything and decided to jump on the bandwagon just to gain attention."
After Brice dismissed the charges, Katzin was elated, Kreber said. Kreber said he warned him that charges might be refiled.
Kreber later called the County Jail and asked that Katzin be put under observation.
"I really think we've got a suicide risk here once he realizes he isn't going to be turned loose," Kreber said.