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Husband Pleads Not Guilty To Killing Estranged Wife In 1989 San Jose Cold Case

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Cathy Zimmer was found dead inside a car at San Jose International Airport on March 8, 1989. (CBS)

Cathy Zimmer was found dead inside a car at San Jose International Airport on March 8, 1989. (CBS)

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A man accused of murdering his estranged wife in 1989 in part because of a financial motive pleaded not guilty Monday in Superior Court in San Jose.

David Zimmer, 69, of Half Moon Bay, entered his plea at his arraignment on a charge that he murdered 38-year-old Cathy Zimmer, whose strangled body was found inside her car in San Jose on March 10, 1989.

The gray-haired defendant, being held without bail at the Santa Clara County Main Jail, waived his right to a preliminary hearing within 10 days but agreed to have it within 60 days on the advice of his Walnut Creek lawyer, Michael Cardoza.

Cardoza told reporters he wanted Zimmer’s hearing by the two-month time frame to “put the District Attorney’s feet to the fire in this case and try and take it out of the press and…into a courtroom where it belongs.”

“My client did not do this and I don’t believe they have enough evidence to even bring it before a jury,” Cardoza said.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced on Friday that David Zimmer had been arrested in Cathy Zimmer’s murder and that his brother Robert Zimmer had been arraigned on the same charge on Feb. 27.

Robert Zimmer was arrested on the basis of DNA evidence and his and his daughter’s statements to investigators, according to Deputy District Attorney Ted Kajani.

David Zimmer was taken into custody based on the fact he collected about $400,000 from the sale of his and Cathy’s home and from life insurance policies covering Cathy at the time of her death, Kajani said.

Cathy Zimmer’s murder was a cold case for 25 years until the district attorney’s office disclosed in January that it had reopened the case.

The office released photos of a homemade quilt that her killer used to wrap her body and place inside her car, which San Jose police found in a parking lot at the San Jose International Airport two days after she was last seen alive on March 8, 1989.

According to prosecution investigator Michael Brown, Robert Zimmer’s daughter Paula Zimmer told a San Jose police detective on Nov. 9, 2010 that she recalled her father saying he had met Cathy on the day the woman died.

Robert Zimmer had said he was worried about Cathy and concerned his fingerprints would be found in her car and thus implicate him in her murder, his daughter told the detective.

On July 31, 2012, the district attorney’s Crime Lab examined a DNA swab “from an intimate area” of an item of clothing worn by Cathy Zimmer when her body was located “and it was determined that Robert Zimmer was a possible contributor to that mixture,” according to Brown.

Assuming that only Cathy Zimmer and Robert Zimmer could have contributed to the mixture, “the likelihood of obtaining this DNA mixture is greater if Robert Zimmer and an unknown individual are the contributors by a factor of 2.3 million to 1 in the Caucasian population,” Brown reported.

Brown also stated that when he and prosecution investigator Nate Wandruff met with Robert Zimmer in Santa Clara on Jan. 23, Zimmer claimed not to have had a personal or sexual relationship with his brother’s wife but then said he “did not recall” when asked if he had ever been alone with her in her car.

The investigator, in a declaration prosecutors used to arrest Robert Zimmer, concluded that Robert Zimmer had killed Cathy Zimmer, based on the DNA evidence on the woman’s clothing and statements by Robert and Paula Zimmer.

Cardoza said that about two weeks ago, David Zimmer answered a subpoena to testify before a grand jury in San Jose looking into Cathy Zimmer’s murder and both Robert Zimmer and David Zimmer’s wife were among those who testified.

He criticized the district attorney’s office for using a grand jury to question David Zimmer but charging him with murder by filing a complaint instead of seeking an indictment from the panel.

“My big question is, what happened to that grand jury?” Cardoza said. “Did they not find enough evidence and the D.A. simply went off and simply filed a complaint?”

Cardoza also said that prosecutors filed the charge because David Zimmer “sold the house sometime after the death, a lot for people do that, it was his house and he did have a lot of money invested in this house.”

“The other thing I heard the district attorney say is that (David Zimmer) profited from some insurance policy,” Cardoza said. “A lot of people after people die collect from (an) insurance policy. But yet the D.A. is putting a spin on that, that there’s a motive to kill.”

“It’s hardly a motive to kill,” he said. “I am most anxious to get discovery from the D.A.’s office and find out what if any evidence besides that they have in this case.”

“There are two defendants in this case with different types of evidence against both,” the attorney said. “So far I haven’t seen anything that shows that my client committed this crime or was in any way was involved in this crime.”

Kajani said that it was “not at all” unusual for prosecutors to file a complaint against a defendant after testimony before a grand jury that did not bring down an indictment.

“Either way, whether it goes before a grand jury or it goes before a magistrate, a magistrate has to sign an arrest warrant in order to get into court and that’s what happened in this case,” he said.

“David Zimmer was the estranged husband of Cathy Zimmer 25 years ago at the time of her brutal murder,” the prosecutor said.

“We believe there’s evidence that he had a financial motive in this case,” Kajani said. “That combined with his brother’s involvement and physical evidence tying his brother. We believe we have evidence they were both involved in her murder.”

The prosecution has additional proof of the defendants’ guilt it has not released to the public, Kajani said.

“Certainly, all of the evidence has not been revealed,” he said.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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