As the Orange County Grand Jury reviews evidence against a handyman charged with murdering Denise Huber, an initial autopsy report released Wednesday said there were no obvious signs of sexual abuse.
But the autopsy noted that bodily fluids were collected for testing to determine more conclusively whether Huber may been sexually assaulted, a finding that could be a key factor in either prosecuting or defending the case.
John J. Famalaro, 37, is accused of kidnaping and bludgeoning the 23-year-old waitress in June, 1991, after her car broke down on a local freeway less than two miles from her home. Her nude, handcuffed body was discovered in July inside a running freezer at Famalaro's home in Prescott, Ariz.
Forensic testing is being performed by Orange County's crime lab, but local law enforcement officials have refused to reveal any results, fearing a local version of the O.J. Simpson case, where details about new evidence are being leaked almost daily.
The grand jury has begun reviewing the latest evidence in the case and law enforcement sources say an indictment could come by week's end, allowing prosecutors to circumvent a public hearing process in their case against the former Lake Forest resident.
The 17-page autopsy report released in Phoenix by the Maricopa County medical examiner's office said Huber suffered at least 14 blows to the head and a fractured nose. The report indicated that the time of Huber's death cannot be pinpointed because of the condition of the body.
Authorities suspected the murder weapon was a claw hammer or a nail puller--objects that appeared to carry bloodstains and were found in Famalaro's cluttered home. A forensic anthropologist hired to reconstruct Huber's smashed skull to help determine what caused the blows concluded the nail puller was the more "probable" of the two suspected weapons, the report said.
The report said "clear frozen fluid" was taken from the vagina and "clear liquid" collected from the rectum for testing.
Aside from severe injuries to the head, there are no other signs of inflicted injuries, the report states.
Famalaro, who is being held without bail in Orange County, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Prosecutors handling the case did not return repeated phone calls for comment Wednesday. But witnesses called so far by the grand jury include a Lake Forest woman who was formerly engaged to Famalaro and told police he once tried to forcibly handcuff her during a fight.
"I was there, that's all I can say," said Nancy L. Gowan, who added she testified before the panel on Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department said Wednesday that the lead investigator and two others who handled the Huber murder investigation had traveled to Orange County and were expected to return to Arizona today.
"It's my understanding they are there for the grand jury," said spokeswoman Laurie Berra.
Famalaro has easily become one of Orange County's most notorious murder suspects in the wake of his arrest in July, when Huber's frozen remains were discovered in a freezer kept inside a stolen rental truck parked in Famalaro's driveway.
An electrical cord ran from the freezer to Famalaro's house, where authorities found the dead woman's clothing in a box marked "Christmas" and yellowed newspaper clippings about her disappearance.
Arizona officials were prosecuting Famalaro for the murder until local authorities traced Huber's blood to a Laguna Hills storage facility where Famalaro was illegally living at the time of the killing.
Huber was coming home from a rock concert in the early morning hours of June 3, 1991, when her tire blew out along the Corona del Mar Freeway. Officials now believe Famalaro kidnaped Huber and killed her in the storage facility. He purchased the freezer days after Huber's disappearance, records show.
The sexual assault issue is a key one for both sides. Proof could bolster the prosecution's death penalty case or help the defense eliminate a possible motive or assist a theory that the killing was not premeditated.
Defense attorneys have refused to discuss their strategies in the case.
In at least one way, however, the case has followed in the shadow of the Simpson trial. In June, the supervising judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court alluded to the media attention surrounding the Huber case when he ended the grand jury's review of the prosecution's case against Simpson.
Deputy Public Defender Leonard Gumlia on Monday asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner to question grand jurors whether publicity surrounding the Huber case has tainted their ability to fairly review evidence in the case.
Gumlia said Wednesday he was recently notified by Orange County prosecutors that a grand jury review could be imminent but said as a defense attorney he is not privy to the working of the grand jury.
"It doesn't surprise me in any way," said Gumlia, who said he also presented Brenner with dozens of pages of newspaper clippings about the Huber case. "We presume that it (a grand jury review) is going on."
Gumlia has already stated his intention to seek a change of venue for his client because he has doubts that Famalaro can receive a fair trial in Orange County.
Huber became a household name after her disappearance, as her frantic parents and law enforcement officials launched a high-profile search for her whereabouts. Famalaro is being held in protective custody in the Orange County Central Men's Jail after becoming the subject of death threats.