Cold case murder suspect loses bid for release, set for trial in Reno
A 73-year-old Arizona man linked to a 1979 homicide thanks to a Nevada County criminal case has lost a bid to have his indictment tossed and will go to trial next year in Reno.
Charles Gary Sullivan has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder with the use of a deadly weapon in the death of Julia Woodward, 21, whose body was found in a remote area about 15 miles north of Reno. Woodward’s eyes had been sealed shut with Band-Aids, her legs were zip-tied and a cloth had been used as a gag, news reports stated.
Sullivan in 2008 was convicted of false imprisonment and making criminal threats by a Nevada County jury. He was linked to the Nevada homicide by DNA collected by Nevada County law enforcement after his arrest in a kidnapping case.
Sullivan’s Nevada County victim testified during his trial that he zip-tied and handcuffed her at gunpoint, but she managed to escape by cutting her ties with a pocket knife. Sullivan was sentenced in that case to three years and eight months in state prison.
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In 2015, Washoe County Sheriff’s Detective Rick Bjelke was named to a newly formed cold case unit and asked for additional forensic analysis of evidence taken from the scene where Woodward was found. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the DNA evidence from Nevada County was used to link Sullivan to semen found on Woodward’s jeans.
In August 2019, the Office of the Nevada Attorney General obtained a grand jury indictment against Sullivan, leading to his arrest. According to court documents reviewed by the Review-Journal, authorities believe Sullivan may have also killed two other women in the Reno/Tahoe area in the late 1970s: 17-year-old Jeannie Smith and 23-year-old Linda Taylor. Sullivan has not been charged in those cases, and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford told the Review-Journal his office is focusing on the Woodward case.
Sullivan’s attorney, David Houston, filed a petition to have his indictment dismissed, and a hearing was conducted by Second Judicial District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer in January. Steinheimer on Wednesday issued a ruling denying Sullivan’s petition, finding there was sufficient evidence for the grand jury to find probable cause on the charges, and finding no error warranting a dismissal of the indictment.
Steinheimer previously set a trial date of Jan. 25, 2021, with a time estimate of four weeks. Sullivan’s attorney has filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, but an evidentiary hearing remains scheduled for June 15.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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