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Ventura County

Defense in Murder Case Seeks Records

April 06, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura woman accused of helping two skinheads kill a teenage girl pleaded not guilty Friday to murder charges as her defense lawyer demanded access to documents he contends support claims of misconduct by law enforcement.

State prosecutors last month dismissed the murder indictment against Bridget Callahan, 30, to avoid a possible legal challenge and filed a new criminal complaint.

On Friday, Callahan pleaded not guilty to the October 1998 slaying of Nichole Hendrix, 17, of Ventura. A preliminary hearing was set for July 9, and she remains in custody without bail.

During the arraignment, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. expressed frustration with the slow pace of the case and a three-month delay before the preliminary hearing.

But Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael Katz and defense lawyer Joseph O'Neill, who is not related to the judge, said they need time to pore over 20,000 pages of new documents provided by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department and the Ventura County district attorney.

"We have information that we didn't have before," said Joseph O'Neill, who is demanding even more information be turned over.

The defense attorney contends that investigators and prosecutors deceived his client in late 1999 with false promises of immunity in exchange for information about the slaying.

After she cooperated, Callahan was indicted for murder under a theory that she served as a lookout for two skinhead gang members who allegedly stabbed Hendrix to death at the City Center Motel in Ventura.

On Friday, O'Neill accused prosecutors of withholding evidence potentially relevant to his claims that they misled his client. He told the judge that he believes undisclosed materials exist that could be important.

Specifically, he said he wants to know more about a misconduct investigation into a "rogue deputy" and any inducements offered to Roy Ashlock, an accomplice who served a year in jail after admitting to helping the two skinheads dispose of Hendrix's body.

A motion filed by the defense seeks audiotapes and reports concerning any complaints made by Ashlock about his dealings with law enforcement.

O'Neill also wants all records concerning any internal investigation into the actions of Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh and investigator Mark Volpei.

Bamieh and Volpei worked on the Hendrix investigation intermittently for three years and were recently removed from the case. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Judge O'Neill did not rule on the motion, but asked the defense lawyer to put a more specific request in writing.

Callahan was originally scheduled to stand trial this month, but the case has been set back by a string of legal disputes. The first delay came when the attorney general agreed to take over the case from the district attorney's office amid O'Neill's misconduct claims.

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