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Charges Are Dropped in 1978 Slaying : Crime: Prosecutors who reopened the case involving the alleged murder of a suspected North Hollywood drug dealer doubt the credibility of a key witness.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing credibility problems with a key witness, prosecutors Wednesday dropped charges against three men--including an East Los Angeles elementary school teacher--who had been accused of the 12-year-old slaying of an alleged North Hollywood drug dealer.

Two weeks after the unusual case was filed, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office dismissed murder, kidnaping, robbery and burglary charges against Jose Aleman, 40, a second-grade teacher, Daniel Ceniceros, and George Jesse Rodriguez.

The three were accused of killing alleged drug dealer Don White, 28, in what prosecutors said was a dispute over cocaine. Had they been convicted, they could have faced the death penalty.

White’s body was found on Nov. 28, 1978, in the trunk of his car in the 5300 block of Shirley Avenue in Tarzana. Los Angeles police said he had been kidnaped the day before from his North Hollywood residence by three unidentified men and beaten to death at an unknown location.

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Ceniceros, 40, a Los Angeles appliance salesman, and Rodriguez, 38, a day laborer from Texas, came under suspicion in the killing in 1982, but a county grand jury refused to indict them, citing lack of evidence.

The district attorney’s office, however, renewed its investigation earlier this year, saying a witness had come forward with new evidence. Prosecutors would not reveal the identity of the witness or the new information.

On Dec. 12, the three were arrested by Los Angeles police on suspicion of murder.

But prosecutors came to doubt the witness’s credibility and could not find other witnesses or information to corroborate the story, Mike Botula, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said Wednesday.

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Aleman’s attorney, Dennis Mulcahy, said Aleman is hoping to return to his job at Lorena Street Elementary School in East Los Angeles. He was to be released from Los Angeles County Jail within 48 hours, Mulcahy said.

Although the charges could be refiled if additional information is uncovered, officials said it is unlikely.

Aleman and Ceniceros had been held in County Jail without bail since the charges were filed. Rodriguez had been held in a Houston, Tex., jail pending extradition.


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