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Donahue likely to be DeJac trial's main focus

Neither the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney nor defendant is expected to be the most prominent figure in Lynn M. DeJac's new trial.

The star is likely to be her former boyfriend, Dennis P. Donahue.

The man some say killed DeJac's daughter, Crystallynn Girard. The man who never can be charged in that case. And the man who could be a prosecution witness, a defense witness or no witness at all.

Donahue may never step into the courtroom, but he clearly will be the main target of defense attorney Andrew C. LoTempio, assuming that he remains DeJac's trial lawyer.

"He is the trial," LoTempio said of Donahue on Thursday. "He's the killer, and I will be introducing evidence to show the jury that."

Any criminal trial determines whether the defendant is guilty of a crime, beyond a reasonable doubt. But this trial promises to be different.

"Reasonable doubt is the ultimate question," District Attorney Frank J. Clark told reporters Wednesday. "But what [jurors are] going to listen to is 'Did Lynn DeJac do it, or did Dennis Donahue do it?' "

A key question is whether Donahue will testify in the new trial, likely to be held next spring or summer. And that's a tricky question.

"I have no idea whether he'll be called," Clark said Thursday. "I have no idea whether he'd be willing to testify."

Donahue was a prosecution witness, but hardly the key one, in the 1994 trial that led to DeJac's conviction for second-degree murder. He testified mostly about the hours he spent with DeJac on Feb. 13, 1993, the night before Crystallynn's body was found.

New DNA tests on evidence recovered from Crystallynn's bedroom after her body was found show that Donahue was in the room some time earlier.

If Donahue takes the stand, he'll have a lot of explaining to do, about how his DNA wound up on a swab taken from inside Crystallynn's body and on blood splotches on her bedsheet and her bedroom wall.

"I'm sitting in the catbird seat as far as Dennis Donahue is concerned," LoTempio said. "I think the DA is in more of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. If he doesn't call him, he is hiding something, and if he calls him, then he's letting all the dirt and mud in."

If prosecutors don't call Donahue as a witness, LoTempio may have to decide whether to call him for the defense.

"I'd have my choice between stomping my feet and asking, 'Why did he hide this guy?' and deciding whether to call him myself and ask him the questions that should have been asked before [and new questions about his DNA]."

Because he testified before the grand jury that indicted DeJac in 1993, Donahue was granted immunity in Crystallynn's killing. Donahue already faces murder charges in the strangling of Joan Giambra, which occurred seven months after Crystallynn's killing.

And he's been labeled a person of interest in a third similar strangling of another woman he knew, from 1975.

In another twist, Donahue could go on trial in the Giambra case before the DeJac trial. That depends on court calendars, judges' schedules and witness availability.

So Donahue could be a convicted killer, or a free man, when DeJac's new trial begins.

Having a convicted killer on the stand wouldn't be a novel experience for prosecutors.

"It happens all the time," Clark said. "The issue is not the moral worth of the person. The issue is whether their testimony is credible."

Donahue couldn't take the Fifth Amendment, because he already has immunity in Crystallynn's killing. But he could refuse to take the stand. That would open him to a contempt charge, but that might not be much of a threat if he already had been found guilty of murder.

As Clark put it, "If somebody is already sentenced to 25 years to life, the idea of six months more in jail isn't very intimidating."


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