Cold case update: charges stand, defense attorney withdraws

By  | 

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - A Washoe District judge has denied a motion to dismiss charges against a man accused in a 40-year-old murder.

That means Charles Gary Sullivan will likely stand trial, though he will apparently have a new attorney in his corner.

Sullivan stands accused of the 1979 murder of Julia Woodward. The key piece of evidence leading to his arrest 40 years later is his DNA found on her pants.

His attorney, David Houston, has argued that may be evidence he had sex with her, but is insufficient to accuse him of her murder and, in a motion for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, asked the court to dismiss the charges.

But Deputy Attorney General Michael Kovac makes the argument the crime fits a pattern Sullivan has followed throughout his life, noting he was a person of interest in two other unsolved murders of young women, one whose body was found near the same remote location where Julia Woodward was found.

Sullivan, it's alleged, suddenly changed his appearance and left Reno 40 years ago when investigators took an interest in him.

And, Kovac notes, Sullivan was charged with the kidnapping and attempted rape of a young woman in Nevada County, California in 2007 though the jury convicted him only of a lesser charge of false imprisonment.

Those 'prior bad acts'--as they are called-- were presented to the Grand Jury which indicted him, something Houston says was an error and, he argued in his motion, without that evidence there was insufficient cause to charge his client.

Judge Connie Steinheimer disagreed, ruling the case could go forward.

It will likely, however, proceed without Houston.

He has filed a motion to withdraw from the defense saying allowing those other cases into evidence greatly increased the cost of defending his client.

"That puts us in the position of having literally having to defend those other homicide cases in hopes of keeping them out of consideration in this matter. Unfortunately that does create a financial burden that neither the client nor the client's family can bear."

The judge has yet to approve his motion, though the Attorney General's Office says it's not opposed to Houston's departure.

Sullivan's defense would be picked up by the Washoe County Public Defender's Office.

The trial is scheduled for next January. He remains in custody.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020