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Physician’s Absence Stalls Hearing : Warrant Out in Murder Case Pretrial

Times Staff Writer

A physician whose absence from a celebrated murder case has brought the proceedings to a “screeching halt” continued Tuesday to defy a subpoena issued by an Orange County Superior Court judge.

At stake is the trial of Michael Reding, 27, who was arrested after his car swerved into oncoming traffic in Fullerton and collided with a car carrying a woman, her three children and two other youngsters.

The woman and her children died, and Reding, suspected of drunk driving, was arrested. Orange County prosecutors are charging him with four counts of second-degree murder.

A pretrial hearing this week has been delayed by the absence of Dr. David Dantes, an emergency room physician who was on duty the night of the accident.

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After being subpoenaed, Dantes, 40, reportedly told Reding’s lawyer he wanted $500 to testify. The demand angered Judge James L. Smith, who issued a $25,000 bench warrant seeking Dantes’ arrest.

“I’m getting more frustrated and extremely concerned about the impact that this (delay) has had on so many people,” the judge told a reporter, referring to jurors, other witnesses and court personnel.

The doctor’s absence, the judge said, brought the case to a “screeching halt for about three or four days.”

Reding’s attorney, Heidi Mueller, said the doctor told her after being subpoenaed that he wanted a $500 fee to testify although, Mueller said, he is “entitled to nothing.”

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“He was on call for the 27th (of May), and he talked to me on the telephone Friday and said he could only be available next Friday and that he wanted $500,” Mueller told a reporter.

Reached by Phone

When Dantes failed to appear in court Monday, Mueller said she reached him by telephone and told him about the arrest warrant. “I also told him his conduct was an affront to the judicial system,” Mueller added.

The accident took place on Oct. 23, 1984, on State College Boulevard in Fullerton. Reding’s car hit a car driven by Pamela Trueblood, 36. Trueblood and her children, Scott, 8; Kerry, 9, and Eric, 11, were killed in the crash. Two other children in the car, Brian Rector, 12, and Shawn Ratcliff, 2, were injured but survived.

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A state Supreme Court decision three years ago allows prosecutors to file second-degree murder charges in vehicular fatality cases. But in half a dozen such cases since then, the Orange County district attorney’s office has yet to win a murder conviction.

Smith presided at the pretrial hearing to determine whether statements that Reding allegedly made to officers at the scene, at the Police Department and to Dantes, an emergency room physician at St. Jude Hospital & Rehabilitation Center in Fullerton and at other Southern California hospitals, would be admissible. Reding was treated at the Fullerton hospital.

Mueller said her client was lapsing in and out of consciousness the night of the accident and was suicidal afterwards.

Lesser Offense Claimed

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The crime, Mueller has argued, is no more than gross negligence, which is a lesser offense than wanton disregard for human life, a criterion used for second-degree murder.

“There are some things I feel that Mr. Reding said that he didn’t remember right away that could be interpreted wrongly by laymen such as police officers as a consciousness of guilt. But that needs to be explored. The doctor needs to get on the stand because it’s our contention that Reding may not have been able to remember,” Mueller said.

The judge said he will take the matter under submission but will allow opening arguments in the trial to be heard by jurors this morning.

In the meantime, the judge has tentatively scheduled another hearing Friday to allow Dantes an opportunity to testify, and, perhaps, hear the doctor’s explanation for his absence, the judge said.

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Dantes failed to contact the court either Monday or Tuesday.


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