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This Page is dedicated to Jenniffer Rose Vernals. I will never forget her. I don't want the world to forget her either....

Source: Rick Halperin


A Ventura man accused of raping and strangling an auto dealership manager in her Port Hueneme home seven years ago pleaded not guilty Monday to murder charges that make him eligible for the death penalty.
Michael Schultz, 31, entered the plea through his public defender during an arraignment in Ventura County Superior Court.
Standing behind a caged partition in a blue jail uniform, his hands folded in front of him, Schultz waived his right to a speedy trial and agreed to a May 14 trial date.
Outside the courtroom, prosecutors said lawyers on both sides need several months to prepare for what is expected to be a lengthy and complex trial. "This is a very involved case," said Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten. "It will probably take 2 to 3 months to try."
The trial could stretch even longer if prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty.

Schultz is facing 1 count of murder and 2 special-circumstance allegations that make him eligible for the death penalty: that he committed a murder during a rape and a burglary.
Totten said a decision will be reached in the coming weeks about whether to seek the death penalty.
A committee of prosecutors in the district attorney's major crimes unit will review Schultz's criminal past and evaluate the facts of the case before making a recommendation to Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury, who will make the final decision.

Schultz is accused of raping 44-year-old Cynthia Burger, a customer service manager at Gold Coast Acura in Ventura, inside her two-story townhouse on Aug. 5, 1993. Prosecutors say Schultz killed Burger, then burglarized her home and set it on fire.

Firefighters called to Burger's burning condominium on Outlook Cove found her body in a bathtub and initially thought she had died of smoke inhalation. An autopsy later revealed that she had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

The case went unsolved for 6 years. Then investigators received a tip about Schultz's possible involvement and obtained a DNA sample that led to his arrest.

At the time, Schultz was in state prison serving a 5-year sentence for battering 2 Ventura police officers during an August 1996 burglary.
He also remains a suspect in the spring 1996 death of Ventura teenager Jenniffer Vernals, whose skeletal remains were found in the hills near Montecito in Santa Barbara County.

Vernals once lived next door to Schultz. The 15-year-old girl disappeared from outside a downtown Ventura thrift store in March 1996, and her remains were discovered 5 months later. A spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said detectives are closely following the Ventura County case and working with prosecutors here to solve the Vernals killing.

On Monday, friends of the girl's mother, who moved out of state 3 years ago, showed up in court for Schultz's arraignment. Ventura resident Deborah Coss sat in the front row of the courtroom, wearing a picture of Jenniffer pinned to her shirt.

She said she is trying to locate Jenniffer's mother, Lois Bowden, to tell her that a suspect is in custody. Meanwhile, she is doing what she can to keep Jenniffer's memory alive.

"Every child deserves a friend," she said.

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