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Dutra bail request denied

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Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007 10:00 pm

A judge on Monday denied Sarah Dutra's request for bail while awaiting a new sentencing trial for her manslaughter conviction.

Dutra, 26, was convicted four years ago of helping kill her boss, attorney Larry McNabney, with a lethal dose of horse tranquilizer. She and his wife then hid his body for months in a refrigerator in his Woodbridge home until the lawyer's body was buried in a Clements vineyard.

Dutra's public defender, Keith Arthur, had argued for no more than $30,000 bail, citing the fact that the former college art major could have been paroled from prison last week had she received the middle of three possible sentences for the conviction. Additionally, he said Dutra would stay with her parents, who have traveled from Vacaville for every court appearance during the past five years.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa, in turn, pointed to the aftermath of McNabney's death, when Dutra and the lawyer's wife continued to run his law office by cashing more than $150,000 in checks intended for personal injury victims.

He argued that Dutra posed a flight risk, because she previously had no troubles traveling solo to Italy as a foreign exchange student and to horse shows in various U.S. states.

Judge Cinda Fox commented on the fact that Dutra talked with Sheriff's investigators a number of times without fleeing, but added that Dutra changed her story each time.

Additionally, Fox said, Dutra is in debt and showed a "pattern of illegal conduct, including illegal drug use, forgery and driving under the influence of drugs."

The judge said Dutra's family support is her strongest asset to support a bail request, but noted that Dutra never once turned to them for help in the months leading to her arrest.

Instead, Dutra and McNabney's wife, Elisa, partied in the months after his Sept. 11, 2001, disappearance until the funds ran out and Elisa McNabney fled the state. She was arrested in Florida, where she committed suicide in a Florida jail cell while awaiting extradition on a murder charge.

Dutra was left to stand trial, and a San Joaquin County jury convicted her of voluntary manslaughter. She was serving the maximum 11-year prison sentence when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in January that juries, rather than judges, should decide whether someone deserves the maximum penalty.

A lower appeals court subsequently sent Dutra's case back to San Joaquin County, ruling that a jury should have decided if she deserved the 11-year sentence, rather than a 6-year term.

Prosecutors now must prove to a new jury that there were "aggravating circumstances," such as sophisticated planning and great monetary damage, that warrant the stiffer punishment.

No trial date has been set, and Arthur on Monday asked for more time while he reads thousands of pages of interviews and transcripts from the two-month trial. He spent the weekend reading police reports that, when placed on his bathroom scale, weighed seven pounds.

Fox scheduled a May 29 court date to for a status update and to possibly set a trial. In the meantime, Dutra will be held without bail in the county jail.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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