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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Judge Voids Lesser Charges in Martial Arts Murder Case : Trial: Stuart Milburn remains accused of first-degree murder and sodomy in the death of Veronica Estrada.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A martial arts expert on trial for the slaying of a co-worker was acquitted on three lesser charges after the prosecution finished presenting its case, although he still faces the major charges of first-degree murder and sodomy.

Stuart Edward Milburn, 27, is accused of murdering Veronica Estrada, 29, on the evening of Dec. 15, 1993, as she walked along a dark road toward her Canyon Country home. Her strangled body was discovered the next morning near the road and officials said she died of strangulation after, or during, a sexual assault.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan ruled Tuesday that there was not enough evidence to support a charge of attempted rape or two special circumstances accompanying the murder charge: that Milburn was lying in wait and that he attempted to rape Estrada.

In addition to the murder charge, a charge of forcible sodomy remains as well as a special-circumstance allegation of forcible sodomy, which could add prison time to a murder conviction, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Foltz. He said that if Milburn is convicted, he could receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, despite Tuesday’s charge reductions.

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“It doesn’t make any difference at all,” Foltz said of Horan’s ruling. “The jury only needs to find one special circumstance true.”

Foltz said he doesn’t agree with the judge’s decision, but “I think the judge did the correct judicial thing, and I think he did it in a very well-reasoned way.”

Milburn’s attorney, Darryl Mounger, called Horan’s ruling “legally correct,” but declined to comment on its impact on the case.

Prosecutors accuse Milburn of killing Estrada because he was jealous of her professional achievements. She was the American Taekwondo Assn.'s top-ranked female competitor in her division and Instructor of the Year at Taekwondo USA in Canyon Country, where they both taught. Milburn allegedly told people he thought he deserved the top-instructor award.

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Prosecution witnesses said Milburn knew details of the killing before police did and testimony also weakened his alibi of being at a record store near the studio. Three motorists testified they saw a man resembling Milburn near the murder scene, but only one was able to identify him in court.

However, a student from the studio--who testified for the defense--supported part of his alibi, saying she saw Milburn place a Christmas card in her bag at the studio at about 8:20 p.m. the night of the murder. Mounger also plans to present defense witnesses he says will show that the murder was actually committed by Estrada’s boyfriend--Eddie Hockaday--or by an unknown assailant.


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