In yet another blow to prosecutors' efforts to crack an 8-year-old homicide, a Ventura County judge Tuesday dismissed charges against Michael Schultz after finding that the district attorney's office made an error in refiling the case.
Earlier this month, a Santa Barbara County judge set aside an indictment charging Schultz with murder, rape and related allegations in the 1993 slaying of a Port Hueneme woman, ruling that the grand jury was too male-dominated and not reflective of the county's population.
Schultz, 32, was rearrested after the Feb. 1 decision, and prosecutors charged him with the same crimes.
But Deputy Public Defenders Steve Lipson and Brian Vogel challenged the manner in which the district attorney's office brought the second set of charges, alleging that prosecutors had made a procedural error.
At a hearing Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Art Gutierrez agreed with the defense and dismissed the case.
While seemingly a minor setback, the ramifications of the ruling could be significant.
"Arguably, it is a second dismissal," Lipson said Tuesday.
Legally, the prosecution may be barred from bringing charges if a case has twice been dismissed, Lipson said.
The question remains whether the ruling by Santa Barbara County Judge Frank Ochoa constituted a dismissal or whether a seldom-used legal provision allows the district attorney to essentially bring charges a third time.
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Frawley said Schultz, who is being held without bail, was to be rearrested Tuesday and arraigned on murder charges today.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Schultz, a Ventura resident who authorities say raped and strangled Cynthia Burger, 44, during a home burglary.
Authorities allegedly linked the crime to Schultz using DNA evidence.
Given the potential penalty, Lipson said the defense has been aggressive in making sure the appropriate legal steps are taken.
"In these types of cases, you make sure they do everything correctly," he said.