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Man Will Be Tried in Business Partner’s Death : Preliminary hearing: Richard Lockridge’s attorney asserts that victim’s boyfriend had reason to kill her. But the judge cuts off that line of questioning.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Offering the first glimpse of a defense, the attorney for a Fullerton businessman accused of killing his partner sought to deflect attention from his client Friday and asserted that the victim’s boyfriend “may well be the person who may have done away with her.”

But the defense’s case was hurt when defendant Richard Lockridge’s mother admitted during the preliminary hearing that she had lied to authorities about her son’s alibi to protect him. Municipal Judge Linda Lancet Miller was clearly unswayed by the boyfriend theory, cutting off questioning on the issue. Based on what the prosecutor called “a very good circumstantial case,” she ordered Lockridge, 37, to stand trial for the murder of Kim Martello, 28, of Fountain Valley.

Lockridge, who lives in La Crescenta with his wife and two young children, was to be released from Orange County Jail Friday night after a friend gave the family an interest-free loan of $50,000 to secure a bond on his $500,000 bail.

Lockridge is accused of strangling Martello in the warehouse of the ERB Foods company in Fullerton, where they both worked, in a dispute over ownership of the firm. Her body was found July 25 in the desert near Palm Springs, and police arrested Lockridge two weeks ago.

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After a day of painstakingly detailed testimony from the lead investigator on the case, Lockridge’s preliminary hearing reached an emotional ending when his mother, Lydia Alberta Lockridge, acknowledged that she had lied to protect her son.

The mother had previously told investigators that she had had lunch with her son in Pasadena on July 22, the day Martello is believed to have been killed.

But she said on the witness stand Friday that the lunch never took place. She said she lied out of love for her son and because she felt pressured by investigators. She said that her son had called her earlier and that they “planned” the lunch alibi, complete with details about valet parking at the restaurant and seating arrangements.

The mother’s testimony was one of several key points scored by the prosecutor during the daylong hearing.

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Deputy Dist. Atty. David Brent also sought to show that two fresh scratch marks on Richard Lockridge’s face, which an ERB employee had seen on the morning of July 22, were caused by the victim as she struggled against her attacker.

Before his arrest, Richard Lockridge told Fullerton investigator Richard Lewis that he had cut himself shaving, Lewis testified, and had even allowed himself to be photographed. As for other cuts on his hands, Lockridge had said he got those working on his car, Lewis said.

Lewis said that when he expressed skepticism about this account and pressed Richard Lockridge on other matters as well, Lockridge got “very nervous” and his arms began shaking, as they had several times during interviews immediately after Martello’s disappearance.

“That tells me a lot,” Brent said later of the nervousness Lewis described.

Brent also presented circumstantial evidence seeking to link Richard Lockridge to the crime.

Lewis testified that several employees at ERB saw Lockridge and Martello head to the company warehouse just before Martello disappeared on the morning of July 22, that Lockridge was seen carrying a large box from the warehouse shortly after and that the defendant gave differing alibis for his whereabouts later that day.

Soil and vegetation, “possibly being desert-type,” were also found in Lockridge’s pickup truck, the detective testified.

But investigators so far have no eyewitness and no direct forensic evidence to link Lockridge to the crime, and defense attorney Charles Mathews attacked the case as “innuendo.”

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“There is not one scintilla of evidence linking Mr. Lockridge to any violence as to this young lady,” Mathews told the judge.

In his cross-examination of Lewis, Mathews countered with a murder theory of his own, suggesting that Martello’s live-in boyfriend, Chris Hirtler, a tennis instructor at a local club, was responsible for the crime because “she was about to break off her romance with him.”

Mathews revealed that Martello, a former restaurant hostess from San Diego who had become involved in a wide array of business dealings in the past few years, had “taken up” with a businessman named Ted Tsuru and had planned to move in with him.

Together, Tsuru and Martello had put down an offer to buy into a theme park at the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, claiming access to $910 million in credit, according to documents Mathews had obtained. Hirtler was “upset,” Mathews said.

Hirtler sat in the back of the courtroom with Martello’s parents and listened calmly. Although he would not comment in detail on the assertions, he said later: “It didn’t surprise me--they’re going to do anything they can to get him off . . . . But (the prosecutors) have a good case.”

Hirtler said he is not worried about the new line of attack; neither was the prosecutor.

“There could have been men on the moon that came down and did this, too,” Brent said after the testimony. “So what? Let’s see some evidence.”

Lockridge is to be arraigned Sept. 10 in Superior Court in Santa Ana.

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