A judge Tuesday set an Oct. 29 trial date for Sarah Elizabeth Dutra, who was convicted of helping kill her attorney boss but had her sentence thrown out by an appeals court.
Dutra, now 26, remains in the San Joaquin County Jail without bail and will return to court for motions in the case in July.
She was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the Sept. 11, 2001, death of Woodbridge resident Lawrence McNabney, whose body was found months later buried in a Clements vineyard. Dutra, then a college student, was arrested along with McNabney's wife, who committed suicide in a Florida jail cell while awaiting extradition after fleeing California.
After a two-month trial, Judge Bernard Garber said "aggravating circumstances" warranted the maximum sentence of 11 years in prison, rather than the middle term of six years. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an unrelated case that juries, rather than judges, should determine whether a defendant deserves the maximum penalty.
California's Third District Court of Appeals threw out Dutra's sentence, and she returned from state prison.
Dutra's conviction remains, but a new jury will now be tasked with the sentencing phase. That means attorneys will have to tell the jurors most of the complicated case - how Dutra and McNabney's wife continued running his Sacramento law firm for months and cashing checks intended for clients in order to buy fancy cars and marijuana.
In the meantime, trial attorney Kevin Clymo died, and Deputy Public Defender Keith Arthur is now representing Dutra.
Arthur has asked for time to come up to speed on the case but said Tuesday that he has read all eight-and-a-half pounds of police reports. The case also involves more than 5,000 pages of court transcripts and 25 hours of videotapes.
Arthur asked for a fall trial while prosecutor Thomas Testa asked that the trial happen as early as August before he gets stuck in a lengthy murder trial. He also pointed out that Dutra's conviction stands and the trial only surrounds her sentence.
Judge Cinda Fox, aware that Dutra could now be out on parole if she'd received the lighter sentence, said it's up to Arthur and scheduled the late October date.
"It is a sentencing trial, not a full-blown trial, but it is significant," Fox said. "It's more than five years of this woman's life."