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Trial Ordered in Woman's Rape, Slaying

Judge rules there is sufficient evidence for case to proceed against former prison inmate accused of a 1993 killing in Port Hueneme.

November 07, 2002|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

A former prison inmate accused of raping and strangling a Port Hueneme woman in her townhome nine years ago will stand trial next year on capital murder charges.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Donald Coleman on Wednesday ordered Michael Schultz, 33, to stand trial on one count of first-degree murder and allegations that he killed Cynthia Burger, 44, during a rape and burglary.

Coleman, who will preside over the trial, found there was sufficient evidence presented at a preliminary hearing this week to put the case before a jury in mid-January.

Outside the courtroom, prosecutors and defense attorneys said they are eager to start the trial.

A grand jury indicted Schultz two years ago, but the case has been delayed for months by a variety of legal challenges and missteps.

The delays began when a judge set aside the indictment after ruling that the grand jury contained too few women and was therefore defective. Weeks later, a second judge ruled that prosecutors incorrectly filed new charges, and dismissed the case.

The matter went before a state appellate court, which reinstated the charges. Defense lawyers unsuccessfully appealed to the California Supreme Court and the matter was set for a preliminary hearing before Coleman.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, allege that Schultz broke into Burger's condominium Aug. 5, 1993, raped and strangled her, then set her home ablaze to try to cover up the crime.

Schultz admitted as much during a 1999 conversation with his then-fiancee, Therresa Mooney, according to her testimony at the preliminary hearing.

Mooney testified that Schultz, a former Ventura resident who was serving a prison sentence for assaulting a police officer, told her he raped and killed Burger and expressed concern that DNA evidence could link him to the slaying.

"We weren't going to tell anybody," Mooney testified.

But after a year, she broke her silence and called a police detective.

"I told him that I knew of a murder that had happened to a woman named Cynthia Burger," Mooney said.

She testified that she told the detective the killer was serving time in state prison. She identified him as Schultz. And she suggested that if investigators tested his DNA, "they'd probably find a match."

Investigators obtained a search warrant that compelled Schultz to provide a blood sample. His DNA was matched to genetic material extracted from semen found in Burger's body, according to court testimony.

In other testimony, the county coroner told the judge that Burger died from strangulation.

A fire investigator testified that the condominium fire was ignited by someone setting fire to Burger's bed sheets.

Burger's older sister also testified at the hearing, telling the judge that her sister's jewelry, purse and wallet were missing from her home after the slaying.

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