MONTE SERENO -- Prosecutors are unfazed about the strength of their case against the suspects in the killing of millionaire tech investor Raveesh Kumra even as charges have now been dropped against two of the five people arrested after the homicide that shocked this normally placid upscale community.
"We're very confident in the strength of the case against the three remaining defendants," deputy district attorney Kevin Smith said Thursday. "It was always with these three that we had the strongest case. DNA evidence, cellphone records, their knowledge of the home and Kumra gave them motive, means and opportunity."
But the dismissals of two of the original suspects could give the defendants' lawyers fuel to cast doubt on the investigation, said Steven Clark, a legal analyst, criminal defense attorney and former Santa Clara County prosecutor.
"The D.A.'s office is taking the position that they're not here just to get a conviction, but are seeking the truth. It's to their credit," Clark said. "The flip side is two people were in jail for several months for a crime they didn't commit. The defense can argue that the case is in disarray, and make hay with the fact that two innocent people were arrested."
Attorneys for the three remaining defendants, DeAngelo Austin, Javier R. Garcia and Katrina Marie Fritz, could not be reached for comment Thursday. The three are accused of casing Kumra's posh estate and orchestrating a Nov. 30 home invasion that ended with the homeowner suffocating after being gagged and bound. Kumra's wife was also assaulted. It was the first homicide in the city in three decades.
Earlier this month, charges were dropped against Lukis Anderson, a homeless San Jose man. Then this week the D.A.'s office cleared Raven Dixon of an accessory-to-murder charge in exchange for guilty pleas to a felony drug and a prostitution charge. Andrew Dosa, Dixon's Alameda-based attorney, welcomed the turn in the case but lamented the lengthy jail stint his client served before being cleared.
"I appreciate he reached this conclusion, but I wonder why they thought there was a connection in the first place," Dosa said.
Dixon is scheduled to be released July 18. None of the three defendants has entered a plea, leaving a potential trial still months away.
Smith said streamlining the case will help because it means the prosecution won't have to explain elements that could potentially confuse a jury, including Dixon's passing connection to the remaining suspects and why Anderson was the only one not to be charged with a gang enhancement.
Dixon was the first person to be tied to the crime when she was arrested Dec. 18 in Mountain View on an unrelated prostitution allegation and after police questioning was charged as an accessory to murder based on her having posted online photos of the inside of Kumra's home.
Dixon, along with Fritz, were among three "main girls" Kumra frequently hired to come to his house as part of a hedonistic lifestyle that came to light after his death, according to police records. Authorities initially believed the photos Dixon posted were to help Fritz and Austin, who are siblings, and Garcia plan the heist, which is alleged to have been part of a broader string of home invasions by a team of Oakland street gangs that targeted Asian and East Indian families.
But after Dixon spent more than half a year in jail, investigators determined the timing of the posting of the house photos and the home invasion was coincidental.
"While it initially appeared she was broadcasting them to people involved in murder, we didn't find any other connections with the information she had or that she communicated them to anyone," Smith said. "Without that we weren't comfortable to move forward."
The development was vindication for Dixon's family, particularly her mother, Sandra Mitchell, who was outspoken about questioning the evidence against her daughter. Dosa said he hopes Dixon, a single mother, can recover from the experience and move on.
"I'd like her to rise up and take the challenge of her life and make the most of it," he said.
Anderson was cleared at the beginning of June after deputy public defender Kelley Kullick offered accounts from the San Jose Fire Department, an ambulance provider and Valley Medical Center to show he was passed-out drunk in the hospital when Kumra was killed.
But how his DNA was found on Kumra's body remained a mystery until this week, when it was learned that the paramedic who pronounced Kumra dead had also taken Anderson to the hospital hours before.
"The incredible amount of contact paramedics had with Lukis given his condition, and the fact he doesn't have access to clean clothes, make it an unusual circumstance," Smith said.
Clark said the week's developments show that the prosecution's case rests heavily on forensics rather than eyewitness accounts.
"The further a jury trial is away, the memory of these dismissals will fade away. They'll base their decision on evidence they hear in court," Clark said. "It's going to boil down to forensics. If they can show this is a fluke, as opposed to sloppy investigative work, that's the key for the prosecution."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.