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Murder suspect's parents testify at preliminary hearing

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Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2002 10:00 pm

The mother of murder suspect Sarah Dutra testified Wednesday her daughter was afraid of Laren Sims, the wife of Sacramento attorney Larry McNabney, whom Dutra and Sims are accused of killing with horse tranquilizers last September.

Sims committed suicide in a Florida jail cell in March after admitting to poisoning McNabney and accused Dutra of being an accomplice in the murder.

"Did you ever believe your daughter was afraid of Elisa?" Dutra's attorney, Kevin Clymo, asked Karen Dutra, referring to Sims by her married name, Elisa McNabney.

"Yes," Karen Dutra said. "I felt like Elisa was trying to control Sarah."

Sarah Dutra's father, Mark Dutra, also testified Wednesday, the third day of the preliminary hearing in the case.

The parents described a frenzied visit from their daughter, a California State University, Sacramento, art student, the night after McNabney disappeared from a Los Angeles-area horse show.

Dutra's parents said they were surprised by their daughter's strange behavior when she visited their Vacaville home the night of Sept. 11, less than 36 hours after McNabney was last seen by friends.

"She was in a sort of state. She wanted her little dog, Ralphy," Mark Dutra said.

At the time, Mark and Karen Dutra were preoccupied, worrying about Sarah Dutra's older brother, Jeremy, who attends law school at Georgetown University and was supposed to be traveling between New York and Washington, D.C., for an interview that day - the same day terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

But Sarah Dutra seemed unaffected by the possibility her older brother could be at risk, her mother said.

"She was in a big hurry and kind of remote," Karen Dutra said, responding to questions from Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa. "She didn't seem like Sarah. I've never seen her like that before."

Mark Dutra testified he also received a phone call Sept. 11 from a Texas car dealer, who said a check written by Sarah Dutra to buy a BMW had bounced, and that the dealer would pursue grand theft auto charges against her if he didn't get the car back.

Despite the pressing issues of her BMW and her older brother, Sarah Dutra just wanted her dog, he said.

Prior to her suicide, Sims confessed to killing McNabney and said Sarah Dutra was by her side when she poisoned him, refrigerated his body in McNabney's Woodbridge house and then profited from the sale of his belongings.

McNabney, 52, was found buried in a San Joaquin County vineyard in February.

If convicted, Dutra could face the death penalty.

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