SANTA CLARITA — A Canyon Country martial-arts instructor is expected to surrender today on a murder charge in connection with the strangulation death of a former colleague Dec. 15 in a secluded area off Soledad Canyon Road.
Stuart Edward Milburn, 27, was charged Monday in Newhall Municipal Court with the special-circumstance murder of 29-year-old Veronica Estrada, a nationally ranked black belt who worked with Milburn as an instructor at Taekwondo USA in Canyon Country.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Milburn, who remained at large Tuesday but was expected to turn himself in for arraignment today, said his attorney, Darryl Mounger.
"He claims he's innocent and I put him on a private polygraph test and he came up clean on that," Mounger said. "At this point I don't think there is anything to indicate he is guilty of murder."
Authorities accused Milburn of committing the murder after lying in wait and while sexually assaulting the victim--both special-circumstance allegations that allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
"I believe the evidence is compelling," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Foltz, who said he will oppose bail of any amount.
Mounger said that the prosecution's case appears largely circumstantial and that he is surprised at the special-circumstances allegations.
"He has cooperated with this all the way through, so obviously they know something I don't know."
Estrada was last seen walking along Soledad Canyon Road near Camp Plenty Road about 8:15 p.m. the night she was killed. Foltz said sheriff's investigators speculate that she accepted a ride home with Milburn and the two got into a dispute. They believe that she left the car and was walking back to the studio in the 19000 block of Soledad Canyon Road when he attacked her.
Foltz said that one witness saw a man he later identified as Milburn struggling with Estrada near the scene of her death and that another witness saw him run across the road shortly before that.
He said the killing may have been motivated by professional jealousy over Estrada's success at the martial-arts studio. Foltz said investigators also discovered materials in Milburn's apartment suggesting an interest in deviant sexual behavior.
"Basically, this guy was kind of studying the area of unusual sexual behavior," he said. "Not just looking at magazines, but reviewing it and making notes."