An Oxnard gang member with a criminal history of violence will not stand trial in his girlfriend's slaying because prosecutors have new evidence that someone else shot and killed her.
At the start of a preliminary hearing Friday, Ventura County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon dropped a first-degree murder charge against Harold Edward Marshall, 32, citing a lack of evidence.
"A few days ago we received additional information that raised doubts [about Marshall]," Simon said outside of court. "I can't say absolutely that he wasn't involved, but it doesn't look like he's the shooter."
Simon declined to discuss the new evidence or say whether authorities have identified the new suspect. Marshall's attorney, though, said DNA found at the murder scene did not match his client's.
"I give credit to the D.A.'s office for dismissing the charge," Deputy Public Defender Willy Quest said. "Imagine being wrongfully accused of a fairly gruesome murder and also to be the subject of a massive manhunt."
While no new arrests have been made, Simon said the killer knew the victim, Irene Imelda Mata, 22, a Port Hueneme mother of two young children.
Mata was shot once in the head July 26 as she sat with a man in a Chevy Camaro in the 3000 block of Bunsen Avenue, near the Buenaventura Golf Course in Ventura.
Witnesses reported hearing a disagreement between the pair. After the shooting, witnesses said, the Camaro rear-ended an abandoned van on Bunsen Avenue and a man ran from the car. The gun used to kill Mata was found nearby.
Marshall was identified as a suspect after another of his girlfriends, who lives in Ventura, told police she had loaned him her Camaro.
For more than a month, detectives sought help from the public through a crime tip hotline and interviewed Marshall's mother.
Marshall was arrested in early September at a friend's house in Oxnard.
Authorities believe that after Marshall borrowed the Camaro, he may have loaned it to someone who also may have loaned it out.
There is no evidence to suggest the owner of the Camaro was involved in the killing, Simon said.
"We need to determine who had the car [when the victim was killed]," Simon said. A motive for the killing has not been established.
Marshall remains in jail on $150,000 bail in connection with an unrelated case involving his Ventura girlfriend.
According to authorities, he was involved in a July 17 incident in which the woman was shot in the wrist. The woman told officers she was shot while pumping gas but later said that Marshall had inflicted the wound accidentally, Simon said.
Marshall, who has spent time in Ventura County Jail and prison for spousal and child abuse, was ordered Friday to stand trial on two felony firearms charges.
He will return to court Jan. 24 for an arraignment.