Prosecutors on Friday declined to file murder charges against former Tournament of Roses official Richard Allen Munnecke, finding that DNA evidence presented by sheriff's detectives was insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The decision came two days after Munnecke, 71, was arrested at his Alhambra home in connection with the 2004 death of Donna Lee Kelly, a Buick saleswoman and a longtime Tournament of Roses volunteer.
The abrupt change in course left Pasadena's tournament community trying to process the news after an already surprising couple of days.
"My goodness, isn't that something?" said Pasadena Rotary Club President Kenneth Hill, who has known Munnecke for more than 50 years and went to high school with him in San Marino. "Yesterday it seemed like it was shut tight."
Munnecke, who ran a Pasadena air conditioning business and was involved in many civic groups, served as one of the Rose Parade's top directors and met Kelly through his work there. Authorities believe the two were having an affair, which Munnecke, who is married, denied.
Kelly was reported missing in April 2004. Her body was found 11 days later, stuffed in the trunk of her car, when her daughter noticed a foul smell while driving the vehicle.
After the initial investigation, the case languished for nearly eight years until recently, when Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives said genetic material and DNA testing linked Munnecke to the crime.
But in a document outlining their decision, prosecutors wrote that the only evidence tying Munnecke to the crime was a DNA match from a pubic hair found on Kelly's body, and his "adamant" denial that he had any sexual contact with her.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Wilkinson also noted in the document that the coroner's report cited no cause of death — although detectives said she suffocated — and stated only that homicide could not be ruled out. There are other potential suspects in the case, she wrote.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said Friday that Munnecke remains a "person of interest" in Kelly's death and the case is "still ongoing."
"They're still going to try to get the suspect and close the case, because that's ultimately the goal," she said.
A man who answered the door at Munnecke's house said the family would not be commenting.
Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said sheriff's detectives did not consult prosecutors before making an arrest. The district attorney's office was presented with evidence in the case Friday morning, she said.
Gibbons said that even though the decision on whether to file a charge typically is made by one deputy district attorney, "several different people" assessed the evidence in this case.
"After viewing evidence they presented us, it was determined to be insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person committed the crime," she said.
Veteran defense attorney Harland Braun said it is not uncommon for prosecutors to reject cases after arrests have been made. He said, however, that he was surprised to hear investigators had not conferred with prosecutors in a murder case involving a suspect who is respected in the community.
Braun, who is not involved in the case, said detectives sometimes make an arrest hoping for a confession or statement from the defendant. He also noted that police have a lower standard for making arrests — probable cause — than prosecutors do for bringing charges.
"The D.A. looks at it differently: 'Do I have a case I can present to the jury?' " he said.
Munnecke's friends and acquaintances who had reacted to news of his arrest with disbelief were critical of authorities' handling of the case.
"In my mind, it was an inappropriate and untimely arrest," said Diana Peterson-More, vice president of the Pasadena Rotary Club. "I hope this doesn't destroy his reputation and standing in the community."
Pasadena real estate agent Tom Joyce, who knew Munnecke and Kelly through their work for the parade, said he didn't believe Munnecke's reputation in the community would be hurt.
"Everyone I talked to said they're behind him 100%," he said.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.