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Recusal of D.A.'s Office Sought

Law: Murder suspect is seeking to disqualify prosecutors, who she claims gave false guarantees of immunity for her testimony in teen's slaying.


A murder suspect who contends that prosecutors deceived her with false promises of immunity is now seeking to disqualify the Ventura County district attorney's office from the case.

Bridget Callahan, a 31-year-old Ventura woman accused of helping two skinhead gang members kill a teenage girl three years ago, filed the motion Friday.

It alleges "extreme prosecutorial misconduct" by senior members of the district attorney's office and accuses authorities of concocting a deliberate scheme to deprive Callahan of her rights.

Prosecutors maintain there was no misconduct.

Callahan Volunteered to Talk, Prosecutor Says

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Schwartz said authorities never broke the law in their dealings with Callahan.

He said she was carefully advised of her rights and voluntarily agreed to talk to authorities.

"I don't agree that there has been extreme prosecutorial misconduct or any prosecutorial misconduct," Schwartz said.

As for the motion to disqualify his office, Schwartz said it is still under review and prosecutors have not decided how to respond.

Callahan's lawyer said he has forwarded a copy to the state attorney general's office.

At issue is whether Callahan was coerced into giving statements about the 1998 slaying of 17-year-old Nichole Hendrix, and whether an agreement she signed to provide information is valid.

Callahan told detectives, and later a grand jury, that she knew skinheads David Ziesmer and Michael Bridgeford intended to kill Hendrix because they suspected she had reported them to police for selling stolen property.

Callahan further said she stood guard over Hendrix in a motel bathroom before Ziesmer stabbed her to death with a pocketknife.

She also admitted helping dispose of the girl's body, according to grand jury transcripts.

After her grand jury testimony, Callahan was indicted for first-degree murder along with Ziesmer and Bridgeford.

She faces a possible life prison sentence without possibility of parole.

Now, she is asking a judge to set aside the indictment or exclude her statements on the grounds that she was defrauded.

Callahan said prosecutors promised her immunity and told her she need not consult a lawyer before signing a contract with the district attorney's office.

Callahan's allegations come amid a contested race for district attorney and have led to the issuing of subpoenas for Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and the two prosecutors vying to succeed him--Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten and Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh.

Bamieh was the original prosecutor on the Callahan case and Totten was one of his supervisors.

Three Ventura County Sheriff's Department detectives and two supervisors in the district attorney's major crimes unit have also been subpoenaed to testify at a Nov. 16 court hearing.

While denying any legal breaches, the district attorney's office last week turned over a series of intraoffice memos that the defense is now using to bolster Callahan's allegations of misconduct.

In one memo, Bamieh states his belief that prosecutors took advantage of Callahan and had an ethical duty to let her plead guilty to a lesser charge based on her cooperation.

More than a year later, prosecutors offered to let Callahan plead to second-degree murder, but she rejected the offer.

In addition to trying to disqualify the district attorney's office, Callahan this week filed motions demanding unspecified monetary penalties and requesting that the judge assigned to the case recuse himself.

At a court hearing Friday, defense attorney Joseph O'Neill urged Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. to step down because he is a former prosecutor. The lawyer and jurist are not related.

The attorney questioned whether the judge, who spent eight years as a top administrator in the district attorney's office, could remain impartial if his former boss and colleagues are called to testify about their actions in the Callahan case.

Judge O'Neill said he could be impartial and declined to recuse himself.

Meanwhile, Schwartz has asked for additional time to respond to the defense claims.

A hearing is set for Monday morning.

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