General Crime

* Eugene Protsman convicted killer pleaded not guilty to murder of Manual Garcia and Diane Ely in Alameda in 1996

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A convicted killer pleaded not guilty today to charges that he murdered two people in their homes in Alameda more than 15 years ago. Eugene Protsman, a 56-year-old native of Colorado Springs, Colo., was charged last September with killing 59-year-old Manual Garcia in the 100 block of Crolls Garden Court on Oct. 29, 1996, and 54-year-old Diane Ely in the 2200 block of San Jose Avenue 12 days later, on Nov. 10, 1996.

Alameda police said DNA evidence connects Protsman to the two victims. Police said there is no evidence that Garcia and Ely knew each other and at the time of their murders there was no indication that the two cases were related. Protsman is already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murdering Elisabeth Smith in her home in an el Cajon trailer park in San Diego County in 1997.

Alameda police said they received information in the fall of 2010 that linked Protsman to both homicides in their city and Sgt. Kevin McNiff reopened both investigations. McNiff reviewed the original investigation, obtained updated statements and re-examined all of the physical evidence, police said. Recent technological advances in the science of DNA evidence ultimately helped him solve the case, they said.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has charged Protsman with two counts of first-degree murder along with four special circumstance allegations that could lead to the death penalty if he’s convicted.At a hearing today, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carrie Panetta denied a motion by Protsman’s lawyers asking for the complete data in three DNA tests that authorities conducted on Protsman over the years.

Panetta said Protsman’s lawyers don’t need to see all the data at this time because prosecutors don’t plan to present any DNA results at his preliminary hearing, which will determine if there’s enough evidence to have him ordered to stand trial. She said prosecutors instead have said they mainly will rely on Protsman’s confession that he killed both Garcia and Ely.

Richard Humphrey, one of two lawyers who are representing Protsman, said DNA evidence will be crucial in Protsman’s case “because absolutely nothing corroborates his guilt other than his confession.” But Panetta said a witness has at least partially corroborated Protsman’s confession by telling investigators that Protsman showed her a dead body.

Humphrey said he wants complete DNA data so he can find out if there were “flawed techniques or contaminated samples.”Prosecutor Brian Owens said all three DNA tests connected Protsman to the two victims in Alameda but the DNA tests became more reliable as techniques improved over the years.Protsman is scheduled to return to court on April 2 for a pretrial hearing.

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