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Judge Orders Brothers Accused In 1989 San Jose Murder To Be Tried Together

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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)

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SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge on Friday entered a not guilty plea for Robert Zimmer, who along with his brother David is accused of murdering David’s estranged wife in San Jose 25 years ago.

Judge Hector Ramon also agreed to grant a motion from the District Attorney’s Office to consolidate the murder cases against the two men and set a preliminary hearing for both to begin on May 23.

The two elderly defendants, who have gray hair and beards, watched from a courtroom jury box in the Hall of Justice as their attorneys argued against the prosecution’s move to consolidate their cases.

Ramon entered the not guilty plea for Robert Zimmer, 70, after Zimmer’s attorney said he would not instruct his client to enter the plea himself.

Robert Zimmer, who with his brother David, 66, are charged with murder in the former cold-case death of 38-year-old Cathy Zimmer, whose strangled body was found inside her car in San Jose on March 10, 1989.

Both men are being held without bail in the county Main Jail in San Jose beside the courthouse.

David Zimmer pleaded not guilty to the murder charge when he was arraigned on March 10, the 25th anniversary of the discovery of Cathy Zimmer’s body. Robert Zimmer was arraigned on the charge on Feb. 27 but did not enter a plea.

Arguing in favor of consolidating the Zimmer brothers’ cases, Deputy District Attorney Ted Kajani said that both involved a single set of facts and there is a large amount of evidence common to both men.

But the men’s attorneys each vigorously opposed combining the cases.

Michael Cardoza, attorney for David Zimmer, said that his client’s case ought to proceed separately, since the prosecution will use DNA evidence against Robert Zimmer and not David, and Robert Zimmer’s attorney would need more time to prepare.

“My client should not have to wait,” Cardoza said.

Steve Defilippis, Robert Zimmer’s lawyer, said that he only received Kajani’s motion to consolidate on Monday and that he had to review about 800 pages of reports, including 400 to 500 pages of lab materials, and 16 compact discs containing prosecution evidence.

Since his defense of Robert Zimmer would require analysis of DNA evidence and other issues, he needed more time to prepare for the preliminary hearing, Defilippis said.

“This case should be kept separate,” Defilippis said.

Defilippis said he also would have to review wiretap evidence and affidavits that Kajani had filed under seal.

Kajani said that the defense could petition to have those materials unsealed.

Ramon said that he would be “inclined to unseal” those documents.  He ruled in favor of consolidating the cases, citing a state statute permitting it.

The judge asked Robert Zimmer if he was willing to waive his right to a preliminary hearing until May 23 and he responded “yes.”

Outside of court, Defilippis maintained that he did not have sufficient time to put together his side of the case.

“I’m getting this rammed down my throat,” he said.

When Cathy Zimmer’s body was found, it was wrapped in a quilt blanket on the rear floorboard of her 1986 Chrysler New Yorker that San Jose police found parked at San Jose International Airport.

According to Kajani, Robert Zimmer was arrested on the basis of DNA evidence taken from clothing on Cathy’s body and from statements by his daughter to investigators.

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 and was concerned his fingerprints would be found in her car.

In 2012, the district attorney’s Crime Lab examined a DNA swab from the zipper and button of pants worn by Cathy Zimmer when her body was located and it was determined that Robert Zimmer was a possible contributor to a mixture of DNA found on it, according to prosecutors.

David Zimmer, a one-time engineer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, was taken into custody based on the alleged motive that 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 nearly 25 years until the district attorney’s office disclosed in January that it had reopened it and released photos of the quilt that her body was wrapped in.

© 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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