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Las Vegas Sun Out to Lunch?

Someone might want to let the The Las Vegas Sun know there will be no trial. The following was posted on their web site today. Clearly they had been working on the story for the trial that was set to begin tomorrow but why would you run this piece after the news on Friday?

Pro bodybuilders face trial in aide’s 2005 death in Vegas
Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan were stars in the world of professional bodybuilding. The married couple posed for magazines and competed at events while trying to turn their chiseled muscles and crafted images into fame and fortune.

It all went to ashes in Dec. 14, 2005, when the charred corpse of their live-in personal assistant, Melissa James, was found in Ryan’s burned-out red Jaguar sedan off a remote desert road outside Las Vegas.

“It’s a situation where two very successful people flamed out in America’s Sin City,” said Glenn Puit, a former newspaper reporter who wrote a book about the case.

“That’s not sensationalizing it,” Puit said. “You’ve got two beautiful, popular people charged with murdering a woman in the most horrific manner possible.”

Titus and Ryan were arrested in a Boston suburb after a nine-day nationwide manhunt. Ryan was getting her nails done at a Stoughton, Mass., salon while Titus waited outside.

Now, after almost 2 1/2 years, Titus and Ryan are due to star in a courtroom drama featuring conflicting tales of sex, drugs, deceit and dueling legal theories that could prompt the Nevada Supreme Court to again postpone the proceedings, set to start Monday.

Titus and Ryan have each pleaded not guilty to charges of murder with a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping and third-degree arson handed up by a 15-member Clark County grand jury in May 2006.

“Beaten, drugged, Tasered, injected, strangled and burned,” prosecutor Robert Daskas said. “The charges reflect what the defendants did to Melissa James.”

Daskas said the evidence and testimony against Titus and Ryan is overwhelming. He and prosecutor Josh Tomsheck plan to call about 40 witnesses and spend about two weeks presenting the state case.

But they lack one crucial piece of evidence: the cause of James’ death. A county medical examiner ruled it “undetermined” with a contributory finding of “opiate intoxication.”

The medical examiner, Dr. Piotr Kubiczek, told a grand jury there was duct tape over James’ face, wire across her neck and toxic levels of morphine or a heroin derivative in her body. Hair samples also showed chronic use of amphetamines.

“The key to the trial is probably going to be ’cause of death’ and whether the jury believes beyond a reasonable doubt that a murder took place,” said Puit, 38, now an investigative reporter for the nonprofit Michigan Land Use Institute.

Titus’ and Ryan’s lawyers say the condition of James’ body and conflicting statements by Titus, Ryan and other witnesses make it impossible to say how James died, much less whether it was an accident or a homicide.

“You can’t guess on this. You have to be certain these people were involved,” said Ryan’s lawyer, Michael Cristalli. “Who did it? Did Kelly do it? Did Craig do it? How did they do it? These are all questions I don’t think the state knows.”

The stakes are high. Prosecutors aren’t seeking the death penalty, but Titus, 43, a 1996 bodybuilding champion and Mr. Olympia competitor, and Ryan, 35, a past Fitness America and Fitness International winner, could each face life in prison without parole if convicted.

They’ve remained jailed without bail awaiting trial. They won a state Supreme Court ruling that let lawyers from the same Las Vegas firm represent them, despite prosecutors’ arguments that it was a conflict of interest that could be grounds for appeal.

Another layer of intrigue was added last year, when police said they foiled a jailhouse plot to kill three key witnesses.

Nelson Ronald Brady Jr., 41, was convicted Feb. 5 of three charges of solicitation to commit murder for trying to hire a hit man to rub out Megan Pierson Foley, her husband, Jeremy Foley, and Anthony Gross, a co-defendant in the James case. Brady faces six to 45 years in prison at sentencing, scheduled Tuesday.

Neither Titus nor Ryan was charged in the murder-for-hire plot, and it is not clear jurors will be told about it.

“My clients are good people in a bad situation who exercised bad judgment,” said defense lawyer Marc Saggese.

“But murderers they are not,” Saggese said, “and the evidence will show that.”

Cristalli acknowledged “there are bad facts in the case that we will concede to,” including that Titus and Ryan drove James to the desert in the trunk of Ryan’s car and set it afire.

“But that does not prove first-degree murder,” he said.

Titus initially told police he’d had an affair with James that Ryan didn’t know about.

During interviews with police, Titus and Ryan said they took James into their home to manage a fitness clothing business they wanted to start, but evicted her after they said they discovered she was looting their bank accounts.

Titus told police he and Ryan argued with James and he rented a room for James at a local hotel and bought her an airline ticket to New Jersey for Christmas.

James’ mother, Maura James, said her daughter called and asked to be picked up at the airport on Dec. 14. She never arrived.

“I’m glad it’s finally here,” Maura James, 53, of Lambertville, N.J. said of the trial. “Hopefully, justice will be done. You don’t ever get over losing a child, especially to murder.”

Melissa James lived with her father, brother and sister in Panama City Beach, Fla., where she attended community college and opened a dance studio before moving to Las Vegas in October 2005.

Cristalli said evidence will show James had what he called a “long-standing history with drug abuse.”

Titus also had a drug history. He served almost two years in federal prison after being convicted of selling Ecstasy in October 1995. He got probation, but it was revoked when he tested positive for steroids. He was released in April 1999.

Friends told police that Titus and Ryan used the prescription painkiller OxyContin, and a witnesses testified that Titus once bought $500 worth of morphine. Both Titus and Ryan told police they injected the synthetic opiate Nalbuphine, and that Ryan tried methamphetamine.

“Defendants admit to steroid use and there are steroids within their house,” prosecutors say in pretrial court documents, which also raise the issue of steroid-induced aggression sometimes called “‘roid rage.”

Titus and Ryan told detectives that James overdosed, and they panicked, burned her body and traveled to Massachusetts because they were worried publicity about her death would hurt their carefully cultivated careers.

But by then, police were confirming the Jaguar belonged to Ryan. She was videotaped at 3:31 a.m. Dec. 14 at a Las Vegas Wal-Mart store, using a credit card to buy seven bottles of charcoal lighter fluid and putting them in her car.

A short time later, Gross’ pickup truck and the Jaguar were seen in a video at a gas station on the edge of town. Police say Titus, Ryan and Gross filled a gasoline can and drove into the desert where Titus set the car ablaze. They all drove back to town with Gross.

Gross, 26, was arrested after Titus and Ryan left town. He pleaded not guilty to accessory to murder and third-degree arson, and remains free without bond pending a separate trial. His lawyer, Louis Palazzo, said he did not know if Gross will be called as a witness in the Titus and Ryan case.

Puit said the jury will hear plenty of eyebrow-raising evidence.

“The way Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan acted before and after her death is highly suspicious,” Puit said. “They both acknowledged taking her body out to the desert and setting it on fire.”

“The biggest problem the defendants are going to have in this case is their statements,” Puit added. “They talked and talked and talked to authorities after their arrests.”

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