An Oak View man accused of raping and drowning an Oxnard teenager two years ago pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges that could bring a death sentence.
Douglas Dworak, 37, is charged with forcible rape, murder and an allegation that he killed during the commission of a rape in the 2001 slaying of Crystal Hamilton, 18. The allegation allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty, although no decision has been reached on whether to do so.
On Wednesday, Dworak appeared briefly in Ventura County Superior Court for an arraignment during which his court-appointed lawyer entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf, and a preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 20.
Dworak remains jailed without bail.
After the hearing, defense attorney James Farley expressed frustration that law enforcement officials had revealed information about his client, a registered sex offender who served nine years in state prison for rape before moving to Oak View.
"Law enforcement has got a big mouth," said Farley, who is concerned that details of the prior crime could poison the jury pool. "Mr. Dworak has paid his price for what occurred many years ago, and, unfortunately in our society, it is like branding someone in the forehead for the rest of his life. It's unfair."
Dworak, a construction worker, was arrested last month by sheriff's investigators in connection with the rape and drowning of Hamilton, whose body was found along a rocky beach south of Mussel Shoals on April 22, 2001.
The arrest came after a two-year investigation by the sheriff's Major Crimes Unit and deputies in Ojai, who began their search after a fisherman found Hamilton's body.
Hamilton had been visiting friends in Ventura the day she disappeared. Authorities say the girl had phoned her father and asked him to pick her up at a meeting place, but she was not there when he arrived.
During an autopsy, the coroner found semen that last year was compared with a national database of DNA profiles. That comparison revealed a match with Dworak's profile, authorities said.
Dworak's DNA profile was entered into the database after he was convicted of rape in Napa County in 1987. According to the California Department of Corrections, Dworak was released to Ventura County in 1996.
Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Cheryl Temple said Wednesday that investigators are now compiling a background file on Dworak to assist Dist. Atty. Greg Totten in deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
Farley said he is also compiling a background file and has asked for a meeting with Totten in hopes of persuading him not to pursue Dworak's execution if convicted.