Crime

Judge moves Fresno acid murder trial to Van Nuys

The trial of Fresno biochemist Larissa Schuster, accused of murdering, kidnapping and torturing her husband, will be held in Van Nuys, a Fresno County Superior Court judge decided Thursday.

Schuster, 46, of Clovis, was charged with co-defendant James Fagone in the murder of her husband, Timothy, whose acid-drenched remains were found in a locked storage unit five days after he disappeared from his home.

With intense media coverage of the case from the first day, defense attorneys immediately asked for a change of venue when Schuster and Fagone were initially charged. The request was denied at the time.

Changes of venue are rarely granted in Fresno County, where Superior Court judges have not allowed a local case to be tried elsewhere since 1993.

Fagone, who was tried separately from Schuster, was convicted and received a life sentence earlier this year.

Schuster's attorneys asked again for a change of venue after Fagone's sentencing, arguing that coverage of his trial had tainted the jury pool in Fresno.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Wayne Ellison agreed last month. On Thursday, he decided to have the trial moved to Van Nuys.

Bob Ellis, Fresno County chief assistant district attorney, said attorneys from his office are ready to prosecute the case.

"Now that we know where we're going, we're making logistical arrangements to support our attorneys and investigators during the trial," he said.

Schuster's attorney, Roger Nuttall, was unavailable to comment.

Timothy and Larissa Schuster were in the middle of a bitter divorce when he disappeared from his Clovis home on July 10, 2003.

Investigators believe that Larissa Schuster and Fagone used a stun gun and chloroform-soaked rags to disable Timothy Schuster, then bound his hands and feet and drove him to Larissa Schuster's home.

There, the pair stuffed Timothy Schuster into a large drum, investigators say. Then, police say, Larissa Schuster poured hydrochloric acid over her estranged husband, killing him.

Two days later, the pair moved the drum to Schuster's business, police say. Larissa Schuster is then alleged to have poured more acid on Timothy Schuster's remains, and to have used a saw to remove his feet so the lid of the drum would close.

Larissa Schuster later moved the drum by herself to a locked storage unit, where on July 15 Timothy Schuster's remains were found -- still soaking in acid -- by police investigating his disappearance, police say.

The trial, expected to last five to eight weeks, will begin Oct. 15.

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