Crime

Schuster to call Fagone a killer

VAN NUYS -- When Larissa Schuster takes the witness stand later this week to defend herself against the charge of murdering her husband, she will point an accusing finger at a man already convicted for the crime -- James Fagone, a 25-year-old former employee at Schuster's research lab.

Schuster, a 47-year-old former biochemist from Clovis, will say that on July 12, 2003 -- two days after her estranged husband went missing -- Fagone confessed to her that he killed Timothy Schuster, according to a motion filed Monday by Larissa Schuster's defense attorney, Roger Nuttall, in the Los Angeles County courthouse where the trial is being held.

Fagone was convicted last December of first-degree murder after admitting he played a role in the killing.

But he testified in his trial that Schuster dragged him into the crime.

On the night of the murder, he said, he and Schuster entered Timothy Schuster's house, knocked him out and stuffed his body into a 55-gallon barrel. Later, he said, he watched in horror as Larissa Schuster filled the barrel with acid.

Nuttall's motion, however, says Fagone told Schuster that he carried out the crime by himself or with the help of friends. The motion offers no other details on the alleged confession.

Nuttall's motion also asked Judge Wayne Ellison of Fresno County Superior Court to allow into evidence a document certifying Fagone's conviction. Up until now, the jurors have heard little about Fagone other than that he was a former lab employee who baby-sat Schuster's 12-year-old son and was arrested in July 2003 about the same time Schuster was apprehended.

Prosecutor Dennis Peterson argued that the certificate could only be introduced to jurors if the rest of the evidence presented in Fagone's trial -- including his videotaped confessions to police -- is allowed into evidence as well.

Ellison said that wasn't necessary, and he granted Nuttall's motion to introduce the certificate.

Fagone, who is serving a life sentence, is appealing his conviction and is not expected to testify in Schuster's trial, exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The prosecution cannot show jurors Fagone's videotaped confessions because that would infringe on Schuster's right to cross-examine her accuser.

In his motion, Nuttall says he will try to use statements by Fagone's friends to back up his theory that Fagone committed the murder on his own initiative. The motion lists a series of statements made by friends who either testified in Fagone's trial or told investigators that Fagone had been frustrated with Timothy Schuster.

Some of them said Fagone wanted their help to break into Timothy Schuster's home, use a stun gun and chloroform on him, and take possessions supposedly stolen from Larissa Schuster. The friends never say Fagone intended to kill Timothy Schuster.

In his trial, Fagone testified that a stun gun and chloroform were used in the assault on Timothy Schuster.

Nuttall asked Ellison whether Fagone's friends would be allowed to repeat their statements in court. The judge said he will determine as the witnesses testify whether their statements are legally admissable.

After more than two weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses, the prosecution wrapped up its case against Schuster on Monday.

Nuttall asked Ellison to dismiss the case -- a common practice once the prosecution finishes presenting its case -- but the judge denied the motion.

Nuttall will present his opening statements today. He has said Schuster is expected to testify Thursday or Friday.

On Monday, a woman who used to sing in a church choir with Schuster testified that Schuster repeatedly said she did not want her husband to have even partial custody of their son or any share of the lab, which they jointly owned.

"Tim was never going to get anything she had," said Nancy Wright, who attended Hope Lutheran Church in Fresno with Schuster. "She said that she was going to keep everything related to the business."

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