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Retired lawman guilty of murder

The ex-L.A. County sheriff's sergeant faces 25 years to life in the 1991 slaying of his estranged wife, whose body was never found.

August 23, 2007|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

A former Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant whose estranged wife disappeared in 1991 was convicted Wednesday of killing her, although authorities never found her body.

John Racz, who retired from the Sheriff's Department more than 20 years ago, was convicted of murdering Ann Mineko Racz, 42. He is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 14 and faces 25 years to life in prison.

Juror Robert Johnson said the prosecution's "landslide of evidence" resulted in the conviction.

But defense attorney Philip Israels called the verdict disappointing and said he planned to appeal. The absence of a body, Israels said, was only one of several important elements missing from the prosecution's case.

"There was no crime scene. There was no murder weapon. There were no witnesses and no opportunity," he said.

Prosecutors contended that Racz killed his wife April 22, 1991. Just days earlier, she had filed for divorce and moved out of the couple's Valencia home, taking their three children with her.

Her abandoned car was later found at Van Nuys FlyAway, a park-and-ride lot for travelers heading to Los Angeles International Airport, but investigators could not find her name on any of the flight manifests.

Racz contended he had spoken to and met with his wife several times after April 22, saying he gave her money with which to take a trip and reconsider her decision to leave him, authorities said.

The case lingered for more than a decade, as authorities searched for Ann Racz's body. Then Racz was arrested in October 2006 at LAX as he stepped off a flight from Thailand.

Dee Ann Wood, a friend of Ann Racz who had testified at the trial, said Wednesday that Ann Racz was "scared to death" of her husband.

Wood recalled helping Ann Racz hide her car overnight so her husband wouldn't know where she was staying.

"I feel a certain relief that justice has been served," Wood said. "But I grieve for the kids that they have to go through this."

The three Racz children also testified during the trial.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin and his fellow prosecutors relied on circumstantial evidence and logic to convince jurors.

"Whether you have a body or not, it's clear she's dead," Lewin said. "And once you agree she's dead, it's clear she died on April 22, 1991."

Lewin said Racz, who is in his 60s, told investigators that he met his wife several times after April 22. But that contention fell apart under scrutiny and seemed fundamentally implausible, Lewin said.

"You would have to believe that Ann Racz, who was a dedicated mother, abandoned her children and disappeared with no word to anyone in her life," Lewin said. "But the one person she's afraid of and doesn't want to see anymore, he's the only one she's still talking to? It's absurd."

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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