YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Region

Courtroom Reunion for Murder Suspects

Mother and her ex-boyfriend, accused of killing 3-year-old Michelle Pulsifer in 1969, avoid eye contact at first hearing.

September 16, 2004|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

An attorney for a woman accused in the 1969 death of her 3-year-old daughter declared her innocence Wednesday and shifted the blame to her former boyfriend, citing the man's violent history and a witness who recalled him carrying the girl away in a box.

Donna J. Prentice, 57, who was extradited this week from Wisconsin, has hired prominent Orange County attorney Ronald G. Brower to defend her against allegations that she and her then-boyfriend killed her daughter, Michelle Pulsifer, and buried her body in a remote canyon before abruptly moving from Huntington Beach to the Midwest.

"She denies any involvement in the death of the girl," Brower said. "She denies any involvement in the disappearance of the girl."

Prentice and James Michael Kent, 62, who have been estranged for years, both face murder charges after prosecutors, with the help of a private investigator, opened a case into the mysterious disappearance of Michelle.

After his arrest, Kent implicated Prentice in the slaying and led authorities to the general area he remembered burying the girl's body.

Brower suggested Kent acted alone, saying he had a criminal record, a history of violence that had alienated his own family and physically abused Michelle.

Brower's comments followed the couple's first court appearance in Santa Ana since their arrests. It was an awkward courtroom reunion, with the estranged couple waiting together in a cage for nearly half an hour before their arraignment.

Prentice sat most of the time directly behind Kent, looking solemn and a bit nervous. They kept their distance and avoided eye contact. Even in the few minutes they stood side by side to talk to their attorneys, neither looked the other's way.

Michelle's father and brother, Richard Pulsifer and Richard Jr., watched from the gallery with their wives. They wore nametags with a clover, in honor of the girl who was born on St. Patrick's Day, 1966. Prentice's husband, Noble, sat with an investigator for his wife's attorney. All declined to speak with reporters.

Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly agreed to postpone the arraignment until Oct. 14 and ordered both to remain held on $1-million bond.

Prosecutors have never said how and why they believed Michelle was killed, only that she had not been seen since the couple left Orange County and moved to Illinois, and was presumed dead.

The couple, who also had two 6-year-old sons from other marriages living with them, told the boys that there was not enough room in the car and that they were leaving their sister in California with a relative, prosecutors said.

The investigation into her disappearance did not begin in earnest until 2001, when a relative of Michelle's father hired a Los Angeles private investigator, who turned his files over to the Orange County district attorney last year.

By that time, Prentice was remarried and living in Genoa, Wis. Kent, a truck driver, had moved to Lakemoor, Ill.

After his arrest two weeks ago, Kent denied being involved in Michelle's death but told investigators during a videotaped interview that he helped bury her body in Williams Canyon in the mountains in eastern Orange County. Despite his help, no remains have been found.

Los Angeles Times Articles