Judge denies request for retrial in '01 murder case

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE " A request for a new trial from a woman convicted of murdering her daughter at a South Lake Tahoe campground seven years ago was rejected by an El Dorado County Superior Court judge Monday.

In 2003, a 12-member jury found Lisa Platz guilty of murder in the death of her 9-year-old daughter, Rebbeca Aramburo.

Authorities found the girl dead from a slashed throat after a nine-hour standoff with Platz and boyfriend James Csucsai at Campground by the Lake in 2001. Csucsai hanged himself in his jail cell in April 2002.

Some jurors during the original trial, as well as a panel of three appellate court judges who upheld Platz's conviction in 2006, had doubts about whether Platz actually cut her daughter's throat, but California's felony-murder rule made proof of who physically killed Rebbeca unnecessary.

Even if Csucsai killed the girl, "as a matter of law, (Platz) is responsible for that act as if she had done it herself," Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said Monday.

California's felony-murder rule states participants in certain crimes " such as rape, robbery or kidnapping " can be charged with murder for deaths that occur during the commission of those crimes.

Csucsai and Platz " who did not have legal custody of the girl " kidnapped Rebbeca from Washington in August 2001.

During three days of testimony which started last week, Platz's defense attorney, Mark Millard, highlighted problems with the Alaska native's previous defense, including public defender Rick Meyer's failure to call Platz to the stand.

Without Platz's testimony, jurors did not hear an account of an incident Platz says took place in Colorado before the trio's arrival in South Lake Tahoe.

"If I had known that James' coercion was Lisa's only defense to kidnap felony murder, there is simply no way I would have rested without putting Lisa on the stand," Meyer wrote in a court document.

During the Colorado incident, Platz tried to escape with her daughter but was caught by an increasingly unstable Csucsai, who at gunpoint prevented the pair from leaving, Millard said.

Platz testified during the most recent hearings, but her account of the Colorado incident was not enough to warrant a new trial, Judge Jerald Lasarow said.

In making his decision, Lasarow said the main issue at hand was whether Platz made "affirmative and bona fide" attempts to end the ongoing kidnapping of

Rebbeca.

"I don't find evidence of withdrawal (attempts to end the kidnapping), Mr. Millard, I really don't," Lasarow said Monday.

The judge noted that more than a week and a half went by between the incident in Colorado and the South Lake Tahoe standoff. Lasarow questioned why Platz didn't take greater measures to get away from Csucsai during that time.

After Lasarow's decision, Platz remained relatively still, dabbing her eyes and wiping her nose with a tissue.

In 2003, Platz was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She is serving time at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, Calif.

A hold was placed on a federal appeal for Platz pending the outcome of the most recent hearing in El Dorado County Superior Court. Attorneys for Platz may also appeal Lasarow's latest decision to the 3rd Appellate District Court of California, Millard said.

- Contact reporter Adam Jensen at ajensen@tahoedailytribune.com.

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