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Famalaro Faces Sex Charges in Huber Slaying

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adding another twist to the gruesome killing of Denise Huber, the Orange County Grand Jury on Thursday indicted John J. Famalaro on charges of sexual assault as well as murder and kidnap, increasing the possibility that he will face the death penalty if convicted.

The indictment is the first formal accusation of sexual assault in the case, which began when Huber’s naked, handcuffed and frozen corpse was found this summer in a freezer in Famalaro’s Arizona driveway. Huber, 23, a Newport Beach waitress, had disappeared three years earlier.

Sources confirmed this week that police discovered semen in Huber’s body.

After two days of testimony by 15 witnesses, including detectives, medical examiners and Huber’s friends and relatives, the grand jury indicted Famalaro, 37, on charges of first-degree murder with the special circumstances of sodomy, kidnap, attempted sodomy and attempted kidnap.

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The special circumstances make Famalaro, a handyman and house-painter, eligible for the death penalty, though prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek his execution. He is being held without bail in the Orange County Jail.

Famalaro has pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnap and is expected to plead not guilty to the additional charges at his arraignment Tuesday.

Thursday’s indictment was “no surprise at all,” Deputy District Atty. Christopher Evans said. “We’re working on prosecuting Mr. Famalaro, and this is just one step in prosecuting him.”

Regarding the new allegations of sodomy, Evans said simply: “We asked for an indictment based on what the evidence shows.”

Deputy Public Defender Leonard Gumlia, who is representing Famalaro, said that while the sodomy charges complicate the case, he was expecting them to be included in the indictment based on reports he received last week about the semen in Huber’s body.

But Gumlia warned that the samples might be too small to conclusively link them to Famalaro, whether the sodomy occurred before or after her death, and whether it was forced. Forensic tests on the semen are ongoing.

“Anybody who thinks they know what happened that night is only guessing,” he said. “There is no evidence of any trauma that something forcible (happened). There may be something consensual happening, or maybe at an earlier time. Some of the questions remain unanswered, and you can read the physical evidence in many ways, depending on who you are and what you want to see in the case.”

Gumlia also questioned the inclusion in the indictment of “attempted kidnaping” and “attempted sodomy” as well as kidnap and sodomy. He posited that the attempted sodomy might have been listed in case the sodomy is found to have occurred after Huber was killed, because sodomy and rape laws do not apply to assaults committed on dead people.

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Evans said the inclusion of the “attempted” charges was routine. “That’s correct pleading practice,” he said. “It’s a form of pleading that we commonly use in our office.”

Autopsy reports released Wednesday show that Huber, who disappeared after a rock concert on June 3, 1991, suffered at least 14 blows to the head and a fractured nose, injuries so severe that a forensic anthropologist was hired to reconstruct her smashed skull. The condition of her body left authorities unable to pinpoint the time of Huber’s death, according to the report.

The autopsy did not indicate any obvious sign of sexual trauma.

Authorities suspect that the murder weapon was either the claw hammer or nail puller found in Famalaro’s cluttered Prescott Country Club home. Both appeared to be bloodstained. Police allege that Famalaro killed Huber in a Laguna Hills warehouse, then toted her body around for three years until it was discovered in the running freezer in a truck in Famalaro’s driveway.

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He was arrested in Arizona in July, then extradited to California earlier this month.

Prosecutors called an array of witnesses during the grand jury proceedings, including Huber’s mother, boyfriend, best friend and the man she was with the night of the killing. Also testifying were Famalaro’s ex-fiancee and a man who had known him when he was living and working in South County in 1991.

Three representatives from the Orange County crime lab, three detectives from the Sheriff’s Department in Yavapai County, Ariz., the doctor who prepared the autopsy and an expert on DNA testing were also called before the grand jury this week. Transcripts of the proceeding have not yet been released.

Gumlia said he had expected his client to be indicted, but cautioned against early assumptions of guilt, particularly of sexual crimes.

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“Any defendant would prefer not to face sodomy charges, but we’re not confident (enough based on preliminary testing) to say whether it will or won’t be proven, or that it even occurred,” Gumlia said. “We would prefer to face no special circumstances. And one would be better than two. Then again, it’s not clear to us, and we’re not confident yet that anyone can (prove) that it is John Famalaro’s sperm, or when it was placed there.”

Times staff writer Rene Lynch contributed to this article.


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