DNA a Near-Perfect Match to Murder Suspect, Witness Says

Times Staff Writer

DNA testing of semen found in slain rape victim Cynthia Burger revealed a near-perfect match to blood taken from murder suspect Michael Schultz, a lab technician testified Wednesday.

The Maryland-based technician told jurors that the odds the genetic evidence left at the crime scene belong to someone else are about 4 billion to 1.

"The evidence is a match," said technician Wendy Magee, who compared the genetic material at the request of Ventura County prosecutors. "The DNA profiles were the same."

The test results are powerful evidence against Schultz, 33, a former Ventura resident who is accused of raping and strangling Burger in her Port Hueneme townhouse 10 years ago.

Schultz faces one count of first-degree murder and special-circumstance allegations that he killed Burger during a rape and burglary.

The allegations make it a capital case, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Burger, a 44-year-old customer service manager at a car dealership in Ventura, was found dead inside her two-story condominium on Aug. 5, 1993, by firefighters responding to a blaze at the residence.

They found her body in a bathtub and initially thought she had died of smoke inhalation.

An autopsy revealed that she had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Medical Examiner Ronald O'Halloran testified Wednesday that he found no evidence of carbon monoxide in Burger's lungs, indicating that she died before the fire was set.

He also testified to bruises and other injuries on Burger's neck, thighs and genital area.

Port Hueneme Police Chief Fernando Estrella, who worked on the homicide case a decade ago, testified that vaginal swabs taken during the autopsy and stored at the Ventura County crime lab yielded evidence of semen left behind from a sexual assault.

For more than six years, the genetic material was kept in storage while investigators waited for a break in the case.

It came in August 2000, when police received a call from an anonymous tipster who suggested that DNA tests would link Schultz to Burger's slaying.

Authorities obtained a blood sample from Schultz, who was serving a five-year prison sentence for battering a police officer.

Test results returned in November 2000 revealed a DNA match.

Investigators learned that the anonymous tipster was Schultz's former fiancee, Therresa Mooney, who told jurors this week that Schultz confessed to Burger's slaying during a conversation in 1999.

Mooney said she told Schultz's mother, Bruni Loprieato, about the slaying and they vowed at first to keep it a secret, but Mooney later decided to telephone police.

On Wednesday, Loprieato testified that the secret began to consume her. She became depressed, lost weight and had trouble sleeping.

But she remained silent and lied to investigators to shield her son, she said.

Asked by Deputy Public Defender Steve Lipson whether she was lying on the witness stand to protect her son, Loprieato said she was not.

"I'm telling the truth," she said. "If he did this, there are consequences."

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