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Ventura County

Retrial Order for Callahan Is Appealed

The attorney general's office asks a court to uphold the murder conviction.

May 17, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Prosecutors in the Bridget Callahan murder case are appealing a Ventura County judge's ruling to grant the woman a new trial.

Superior Court Judge Vincent O'Neill Jr. ruled in April that Callahan, 31, deserved a new trial because her attorney had failed to competently represent her. She was convicted in November of first-degree murder with special circumstances for her role in the 1998 slaying of 17-year-old Nichole Hendrix.

"We think that although Judge O'Neill is a very good judge, on this particular issue we disagree with him," Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael Katz said. "If our office has a legitimate disagreement with the judge, this is what we should be doing."

The state attorney general's office took over the Callahan case in 2001 amid allegations of misconduct by Ventura County prosecutors.

Kay Duffy, Callahan's new attorney, said O'Neill was an "extremely conscientious judge" and is confident his decision will be upheld by the 2nd District Court of Appeals. "I kind of think this is a waste of time," she said.

Two skinhead gang members are accused of slashing Hendrix to death in a motel room bathtub. Callahan was accused of aiding the two men by helping to kidnap and rob the Ventura teenager and then standing guard outside the bathroom while she was killed.

If her conviction stands, she faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Her new trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 18, but that is dependent on the appeals court's ruling.

In granting a new trial, O'Neill said Callahan's attorney erred by not calling Callahan to the witness stand to rebut the testimony of two prosecution witnesses. Callahan, who tried to fire her attorney three times, said he refused to let her testify.

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