A La Canada Flintridge man who may have unwittingly given police the key to his own arrest has been ordered to stand trial in Victorville Superior Court for the murder of his wife.
A trial date is scheduled to be set on Dec. 13 for Donald Miralle, 46, who is accused of strangling his wife, Tessie, 49, on Sept. 12, then dumping the body in a remote desert region and setting it on fire.
San Bernardino County Municipal Judge John B. Gibson on Tuesday ordered Miralle to stand trial for murder after a two-day preliminary hearing in Victorville. The judge said the couple's history of marital problems and evidence found near Tessie Miralle's body point to her husband as a prime suspect.
Defense attorneys for Miralle argued at the hearing that the evidence against their client is flimsy and said they will appeal the judge's ruling to the Superior Court within a few days.
Tessie Miralle was a prominent businesswoman in the affluent community and active in charitable affairs. She disappeared Sept. 12 after she had gone to her husband's civil engineering office in Altadena.
Her burning body was found Sept. 13 by a passing motorist in a remote area of the high desert west of Victorville. However, San Bernardino County sheriff's investigators said they had no clue to the identity of the body until Miralle contacted county authorities Sept. 24 at the urging of a friend, who was concerned about the missing woman and had heard about the discovery of a body in the desert.
Miralle provided the county coroner with his wife's dental X-rays, which were used to identify her charred body. He was arrested Oct. 3 after he attended his wife's funeral with the couple's three teen-age children.
Evidence presented during the preliminary hearing indicated that the victim's wrists had been bound with tape before she was choked to death with a cord or rope. Investigators said they do not know where the murder occurred. The body had been placed in a blue plastic trash barrel, doused with lighter fluid and set afire with a long cannon fuse, experts testified.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Donald Miralle had purchased 100 feet of cannon fuse from a mail-order military supply catalogue in 1988. Criminologists also testified that tire tread marks and footprints found near the body matched brands of tires and tennis shoes owned by Donald Miralle, although they could not say the exact tires and shoes matched.
They alleged that Miralle traded the tires in on new ones with a Pasadena dealer and disposed of the shoes, which police never found, shortly after the murder. The tires have been recovered, but the shoes have not been found.
Defense attorneys A. Brent Carruth and Barry Post attempted to show that the victim had made loans and sold jewelry and in doing this may have made enemies with motives for killing her. They also challenged the evidence that authorities said identifies the body as that of Tessie Miralle.
Although the judge said "there is precious little hard evidence in the case," he said the circumstantial evidence against Miralle is significant.
Witnesses testified that Miralle traded in the new tires on his Chevrolet Suburban, got rid of tennis shoes that were only three months old and ordered his wife's car telephone turned off before anyone knew about the murder.
An unidentified caller attempted to get the tires back from the tire dealer the day after Miralle was questioned by deputies. Workers at the dealership said the tires already had been picked up by police when they were contacted by the caller.
Anita Miralle, 19, the couple's oldest daughter and a student at UC Santa Barbara, testified during the hearing that her mother telephoned her during the week of Sept. 10 and asked her to return home because of family problems.
Anita Miralle tearfully explained that her father, younger brother and sister were at home when she arrived late on Sept. 12 but that her mother was missing. She said she reported to police that her mother was missing the next day.
The oldest daughter also said her father told her several days later that he had ordered her mother's mobile phone turned off. She said she called to have the service restored, because she was concerned that her mother needed the telephone.
Homicide investigators said the mobile telephone and other valuables were still in Tessie Miralle's unlocked maroon Jaguar when it was found Sept. 26 parked near Monrovia High School. The keys were in the ignition.
Sheriff's officials said Tessie Miralle hired a private investigator earlier this year to determine if her husband was seeing another woman. No other woman was identified during the hearing. However, prosecutors said letters allegedly written by Tessie Miralle to her husband accused him of infidelity and threatened a costly divorce and property settlement.