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Appellate court: Dutra's sentence can be halved

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Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005 10:00 pm

Sarah Elizabeth Dutra, convicted of voluntary manslaughter for her role in the murder of Sacramento lawyer Larry McNabney, may have her sentenced cut from 11 years to six, the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.

However, the justices, citing several laws, decided Dutra was actually guilty of murdering McNabney, formerly of Woodbridge.

Dutra was convicted in San Joaquin Superior Court in spring 2003 of being an accessory to the murder in the poisoning death of the 52-year-old McNabney. She was charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances, but escaped a life sentence with no parole when she was found guilty of the lesser charges.

On appeal, Dutra's lawyers said that since the jury acquitted her of murder she didn't have the state of mind necessary to commit voluntary manslaughter. The justices disagreed and affirmed the voluntary manslaughter conviction.

They did find the evidence used to justify the trial judge's imposition of the maximum punishment was lacking and that the midterm punishment was more appropriate. The justices gave prosecutors the opportunity to retain the upper-term sentence at a future hearing, if they choose.

Dutra, a college student, worked at McNabney's law practice, which was taken over by Laren Jordan Sims, who married McNabney.

Sims used a slow poison to kill McNabney on Sept. 11, 2001. Dutra helped Sims move McNabney in a wheelchair, knowing he had been poisoned, but did not call the police or try to save his life, trial evidence showed.

His body was found by farm workers in February 2002, buried in a vineyard south of Clements.

About a month before her husband's body was found, Sims and her daughter from a previous marriage went on the run as authorities began asking about the missing lawyer. Sims was arrested in Florida, but she hanged herself in a jail cell there in April 2002, while California authorities were attempting to extradite her.

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