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Murder charge is dismissed a 3rd time

August 31, 2007|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

A murder charge has been dismissed for a third time against USC student Holly Ashcraft in the death of her newborn son, whose body was found nearly two years ago in a trash container near her Los Angeles apartment.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samuel Mayerson dismissed the charge Thursday and ordered Ashcraft to stand trial on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. She is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 14.

Ashcraft, 22, is suspended from school pending the outcome of her legal case.

The judge's ruling is another turn in a case that has zigzagged between murder and manslaughter over the last year.

In March, Judge David Wesley was the first to throw out the murder charge, saying prosecutors lacked evidence of criminal intent. Prosecutors then dismissed the entire case to refile a murder charge. In June, Mayerson dismissed that murder charge. But last week a different judge ruled that prosecutors could proceed with a murder case. On Thursday, Mayerson ruled otherwise again.

"I think it's clear, under the law, that they're done," said Ashcraft's attorney, Mark Geragos, contending that prosecutors are legally prohibited from filing murder charges yet again under California law. "And it's just a practical matter. One would think enough is enough. Every judge who's looked at it has thrown it out."

But Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, refused to say that prosecutors would not try again.

"They are going to discuss the possibility of an appeal of the dismissal," she said. "There's been no decision made; there's been no discussion yet."

Ashcraft, who is from Billings, Mont., is free on $200,000 bail. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her mother, according to her attorney. She wears a monitoring device on her ankle.

"She's free to leave the house from 9 to 5," said Geragos, who would not say what Ashcraft does or whether she is employed. "She's keeping herself occupied."

A homeless man found the newborn's body as he rummaged through a trash bin in October 2005 near USC. Ashcraft has never admitted that the baby boy was hers. But Geragos has not contested the DNA evidence linking the baby to his client.

"I don't think there's any evidence that the baby was anything but stillborn," he said. "There's clearly no malice."

Prosecutors have maintained that there is evidence the baby was alive when he was born.

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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