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Hollywood Hills man pleads not guilty to murdering woman

June 06, 2007|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

A Hollywood Hills man was charged Tuesday with killing a woman, even as police sought the public's help in trying to locate the body.

David Mahler, 43, who appeared in court dressed in black, pleaded not guilty to charges that he murdered former girlfriend Kristin "Chrissie" Franya Baldwin, 38, and threatened roommate Donald Van Develde with a weapon in his Hollywood Hills home May 27.

"From the crime scene we clearly established a murder occurred," said Wendy Berndt, supervising detective on the case with the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood homicide unit. "There was a lot of evidence at the scene."

Police described Baldwin as blond with green eyes, 5 feet 5, 120 pounds, with a "small build and fair complexion." Investigators said she was originally from New York, had "some police record" and was estranged from her family.

She has no established residence in California, but is believed to have lived in Ventura County and North Hollywood.

Police were alerted to the alleged crime by a 911 call about 12:30 a.m. Friday in which the caller said a murder had taken place at the home in the 8500 block of Cole Crest Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Police interviewed several people at the house, eventually determining that a woman had been shot to death five days earlier on May 27.

Detectives attributed the delay between the alleged killing and the report of it to witnesses who feared for their lives. Detectives and prosecutors expressed concern for the safety of the two witnesses in the case.

"The bottom line is those people were afraid to report it, and this person, eventually, his conscience got the better of him," Berndt said. "There are witnesses [whose] lives could be in danger for coming to us."

Mahler is being held without bail at Los Angeles County Jail. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Cathryn Brougham said that Mahler initially misled police during their search for the body, but eventually told investigators while being videotaped that he was the only person who knows where the body and handgun are hidden.

"It's logical, if he's allowed out of custody, he could and would destroy" the evidence, Brougham said.

Mahler's lawyers argued that he had a "constitutional right" to bail, and that he spoke to police under duress.

"I don't know how they allege murder there.... Nobody knows what happened," defense attorney Michael Melo said.

Anyone with information is asked to call Hollywood homicide detectives at (213) 972-2910 or the media relations line at (213) 485-3586.

tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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