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Philippines Seeks Return of Suspect

Lawyers are fighting the extradition of a California man who has been accused of murdering his Filipina movie star wife.

October 18, 2003|From Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Attorneys began a courtroom fight Friday to keep a California man from being extradited to the Philippines to face murder charges in the 2001 death of Nida Blanca, his Filipina movie star wife.

Roger Lawrence Strunk, 63, a 1960s pop singer and low-budget movie actor known as Rod Lauren, sat quietly in federal court as lawyers from California and the Philippines argued about his alleged role in Blanca's stabbing death.

Blanca, who was 65 when she was killed, was one of the island nation's most beloved cultural icons, having appeared in 163 films and more than a dozen television shows.

Jeffrey Kravitz, Strunk's attorney, said his client would die in jail in the Philippines if he were returned for a lengthy trial, and argued that Philippine authorities had failed to make a convincing case.

Assisted by three of Strunk's Manila lawyers, Kravitz cited deaths, disappearances and conflicting statements by alleged participants in the high-profile killing and argued that the Philippine government had withheld key witness statements from the United States.

"The documents provided do not meet the standards for extradition," Kravitz told U.S. Magistrate Gregory Hollows, who must decide whether Strunk is freed in the United States or returns to a Manila prison for a murder trial.

Hollows earlier this year cast doubts on the extradition request, saying he was troubled by conflicting evidence presented by the Philippine government.

But Assistant U.S. Atty. Kenneth Melikian, representing the Philippines, argued Friday that the evidence is sufficient to return Strunk to face trial.

The Philippine Justice Department argues that Strunk is the mastermind behind the Nov. 7, 2001, stabbing death of Blanca, his wife of more than 20 years. A Manila resident, Pedro Philip Medel Jr., who confessed to the murder and implicated Strunk shortly afterward, then recanted the confession in a dramatic courtroom appearance days later, is on trial in Manila.

Medel said police had tortured him into the confession.

Strunk has been held in Sacramento County Jail since May, when U.S. marshals serving a Philippine government warrant arrested him at his home in Tracy, 60 miles east of San Francisco. Strunk left the Philippines two months after his wife's murder, saying he wanted to visit his dying mother in Tracy.

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