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THE HUBER MURDER CASE : Arizona Drops Famalaro Charges : Courts: Action comes as Orange County authorities prepare to take over the Denise Huber slaying case.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hours after John J. Famalaro was arraigned Monday on charges that he killed Denise Huber and stored her body in a freezer in a stolen rental truck, Arizona prosecutors dropped the murder charge as Orange County authorities prepared to take over the case.

Famalaro, a 37-year-old handyman and house painter, is being held without bail here in Yavapai County Jail pending his extradition to Orange County, where he faces charges of the first-degree murder and kidnaping of Huber, a 23-year-old Newport Beach woman who disappeared three years ago after attending a rock concert. He could be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

Huber’s body was transported Monday from Phoenix to Herreid, S.D., where she was to be buried today.

Also on Monday, Famalaro provided court-ordered samples of his blood, saliva, hair and handwriting to prosecutors.

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Yavapai County Deputy Counsel Thomas B. Lindberg said his office dismissed the murder charge without prejudice so it could be refiled in the future, if necessary.

Lindberg said his office was retaining a felony charge of possession of a stolen vehicle against Famalaro so that the defendant would remain in custody in the unlikely event that he successfully fights extradition. That felony charge carries a maximum sentence of about 11 years, Lindberg said. Famalaro is accused of stealing the Ryder rental truck in which the freezer bearing Huber’s body was being stored.

Famalaro chose not to appear at his arraignment Monday morning to avoid the media attention that has been swirling around the case, according to his Arizona defense attorney, Thomas K. Kelly.

In his absence, Yavapai Superior Court Judge Raymond W. Weaver Jr. announced that Famalaro had entered a not-guilty plea and waived the reading of the indictment against him, then set a trial date for Sept. 28.

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But that Arizona trial is unlikely to occur, since Orange County prosecutors have already set the extradition process in motion.

Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. John D. Conley said his office will probably forward paperwork this week asking Gov. Pete Wilson to request Famalaro’s extradition. Upon Wilson’s request, Arizona Gov. Fife Symington can issue a warrant forcing Famalaro’s transfer to California.

“The best scenario, if everything is (express mailed) and walked through, we could have it done in a month,” Conley said. “We’re going to shoot for that month, but it’s not a crisis, it’s not do or die. We can’t guarantee that Gov. Wilson will clean off his desk or that the Arizona governor will clean off his desk. It’s like the airport, some people get there ahead of you.”

Extradition could occur even sooner if Famalaro chooses not to fight it, a decision his attorneys said would be announced within about a week.

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Arraignment on the Orange County charges and other procedural matters will begin only upon Famalaro’s arrival, Conley said. He added that his office is not seeking an indictment by the Orange County Grand Jury against Famalaro but has not ruled out that possibility.

After Famalaro’s Arizona arraignment Monday morning, Lindberg expressed some regret at saying goodby to the gruesome, bizarre case.

“It would be an interesting case to prosecute and a challenging case, and I wouldn’t mind that,” he said.

“My wife says she’s planning a trip to California about whatever time the trial goes on,” Lindberg said, adding that Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Chris Evans “said he’d save me a seat.”

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