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Killing Called a Random Attack

Lawyers for Michael Schultz say he was in a drug-induced haze when a Port Hueneme woman was raped and slain in 1993.

January 28, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Michael Schultz was in a methamphetamine haze when he allegedly raped and killed a Port Hueneme woman and set fire to her home a decade ago, defense attorneys said Monday as Schultz's trial opened in Ventura County Superior Court.

But Schultz did not plan the slaying of 44-year-old Cynthia Burger, they said. Instead, she was the random victim of a man on a drug-induced binge of violence.

"I want to make it very clear that we don't contest Michael Schultz was on drugs and looking for things to steal," said attorney Steve Lipson, who persuaded Judge Donald Coleman to allow testimony about Schultz's drug use on the night of the slaying. "This was a random act committed by a man high on drugs."

The argument is crucial for the defense attorneys, who have very little to contest because DNA evidence taken from the crime scene indicates that Schultz raped Burger. Schultz, 33, a former Ventura resident, faces one count of murder and two special-circumstance allegations -- that he killed during a rape and a burglary -- that make him eligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors on Monday suggested that Schultz was not merely in the wrong place at the wrong time on the night he and Burger crossed paths. Burger was a target, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Frawley.

"Anyone walking by [her condominium] could see her quite easily," Frawley said. "She certainly attracted Mr. Schultz .... He knew where he was going."

With a small group of Burger's family members watching, Frawley laid out the details of Burger's slaying and the roundabout way police were led to Schultz years after her death.

About 9:15 p.m. on Aug. 5, 1993, Burger called her friend and dance partner, Larry Rodriguez.

"I'd like to meet a little early before class and go over the step from last week," was the cheerful message Burger left on Rodriguez's answering machine. But Burger never made it to her class the next day.

Several hours after that phone call, Burger, a customer relations manager at a local car dealership who was single and lived alone, was disrupted from her sleep.

Schultz "silently crept up the stairs and found Ms. Burger where she felt safe, where she felt comfortable," Frawley said. "Mr. Schultz turned Ms. Burger's bedroom first into a torture chamber and later into an inferno."

Schultz raped Burger and strangled her with his hands, Frawley said. He then filled a downstairs bathtub with water, added bleach and other household chemicals, and dumped Burger's body face-down into the tub. He thought the chemicals would destroy any semen left behind, Frawley said.

He placed a candle under the foot of Burger's bed, then disabled the condo's smoke detectors. He took some jewelry and her purse and, around 5:30 a.m., he started the fire, Frawley said.

When firefighters and police arrived, they found Burger in the bathtub, with limbs contorted and rigor mortis already setting in.

As Frawley displayed large color pictures of Burger's battered body, her father lowered his head. In her last moments, his daughter had suffered injuries to her face, neck, eyes, fingers, abdomen, knees, ankles, buttocks and vaginal area. A small bone in her neck was broken during her strangulation, and she had hemorrhaging in her eyes and skin.

The slaying went unsolved for years, until Schultz confessed the crime to his ex-fiancee, Therresa Mooney, in 1999.

Mooney told police the following year, and they matched Schultz's DNA samples with semen found at the crime scene.

At the time, Schultz was serving a five-year sentence at a state prison near Sonora for a 1996 burglary and battery of two Ventura police officers while on drugs.

Mooney is expected to testify today.

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