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Focus Shifts to Trial Location in Huber Case

July 23, 1994|H.G. REZA and RENE LYNCH and JEFF BRAZIL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — If he had his druthers, the Arizona defense attorney for the man accused of killing Denise Huber and carting her body around in a freezer for three years said Friday that he does have a preference of where his client should be tried: in California, where it's tougher to execute someone.

"We are aware that in the applicability of the death penalty, it's apparent that California has more lenient provisions," defense counsel Thomas K. Kelly said. "That's clearly an advantage."

Huber's father, Dennis, sees it differently: "I want Arizona," he said. "I think if you get the death penalty there they carry it out. It's a joke here."

Friday, 10 days after John J. Famalaro was arrested at his country club home, the issue of where the 37-year-old bearded house painter will be tried began to take center stage.

Amid growing indications investigators may be able to show the 23-year-old Newport Beach woman was murdered in Orange County, a task force of county prosecutors and forensic specialists rendezvoused in Phoenix on Friday with their Arizona counterparts to examine evidence and discuss the case.

"Your gut tells you it's likely that Huber was kidnaped and murdered (in Orange County)," Orange County Assistant Dist. Atty. John Conley said. "But we're looking at whether we can prove she was abducted and moved. You need more than a gut instinct to prove that in court--you need witnesses or physical evidence to prove it to a jury."

Other developments:

* Tests on what appears to be blood found at a Laguna Hills storage complex could be completed by Monday, Conley said. Famalaro was renting the storage space at the time of Huber's disappearance. Crime lab specialists were expected to work through the weekend in an attempt to determine if the substance is human blood and, if it is, if it matches Huber's type.

* Sources close to the case revealed Friday that Famalaro painted homes belonging to members of the Orange County law enforcement community, including two Newport Beach police officers and one prosecutor, who may have hired the handyman around the time Huber vanished in June, 1991.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Paer, in an odd twist, may be called as a witness in the case to testify on what could be a key issue: Investigators say Paer has told them that he remembers Famalaro being clean-shaven, as opposed to the bearded figure whom police arrested in Arizona.

Famalaro's appearance during that period is significant because some have speculated he posed as a police officer in luring Huber to her death, and it's generally known that most law enforcement officers don't sport beards. Handmade replicas of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy shirts turned up in a search of Famalaro's home.

* Defense counsel Kelly won court approval to hire an independent pathologist to examine the body, as long as it does not interfere with the family's plans to bury Huber later this month in South Dakota next to her grandfather. The defense's independent exam is scheduled for Tuesday morning.

* Weary of being inadvertently placed in the media spotlight, the roommate of Famalaro's brother Warren, who lives in Lake Forest, moved out Friday.

Investigators have interviewed Warren Famalaro, a convicted child molester, several times, saying he was being considered as everything from a "witness to a suspect."

As prosecutors from both Arizona and Orange County weighed their cache of evidence in the case Friday--including a possibly bloodstained crowbar seized from Famalaro's home--authorities were turning their attention to the issue of jurisdiction.

Officials in both states have conferred on the issue and, at least publicly, have agreed that justice should be dispensed where the crime was committed.

To that end, Orange County officials await the results of tests on a blood-like substance found in a Laguna Hills storage locker rented by Famalaro during the time of Huber's disappearance.

If the test confirms investigators' suspicions the substance is Huber's blood, that would provide evidence of a potential murder site.

Investigators already say they have evidence that Famalaro lived in Lake Forest at the time of Huber's disappearance, bought a freezer from a Montgomery Ward & Co. store in Orange County several days later and had it shipped to the Laguna Hills storage facility.

From there, the freezer was transferred in 1992 to a San Clemente storage bin, where Famalaro requested that power be on 24 hours a day. Sometime early this year, authorities say, Famalaro rented a Ryder truck, put the freezer in it and relocated to his country club home in Dewey, Ariz.

When investigators opened the freezer July 13, they found Huber's frozen corpse inside, her head bludgeoned, her hands cuffed, and her eyes and mouth covered in cloth and sealed in duct tape.

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