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In the criminal saga of Susan Polk, one murder case was put on hold Monday while another was just getting started. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Laurel Brady dismissed the jury and declared a mistrial in the trial of Polk, who is accused of murdering her husband, after the wife of her attorney, Daniel Horowitz, was found dead over the weekend. A new trial is scheduled for Dec. 2. Horowitz found the body of his wife, Pamela Vitale, at their Lafayette home Saturday afternoon, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jimmy Lee said. An autopsy found that Vitale died of blunt force trauma to the head. Authorities are investigating her death as a homicide. Vitale, a former high-tech executive, worked in Horowitz’s Oakland law office. Horowitz and Vitale were in the process of building a 7,000-square-foot hilltop home surrounded by a pasture and a wooded canyon in the wealthy suburb of Lafayette. Horowitz felt a mistrial in the Polk case “was appropriate” and the judge agreed, Polk’s co-counsel, Ivan Golde, said outside the Martinez courthouse Monday. “At this time, it’s not appropriate to go forward in addition to all the mourning and grieving,” Golde said. “A mistrial was the only choice.” Golde he believed Vitale’s murder was going to be solved soon. “There is a potential suspect, but it’s not a former client,” Golde said, commenting on reports that Horowitz was concerned for his safety because he defends accused drug dealers, killers and other serious criminals. Authorities, however, say the investigation is ongoing. “No one is under arrest. We have no one in custody,” Lee said. “It’s still a wide-open investigation.” Horowitz is cooperating with authorities, Lee said. Horowitz’s lawyer, Robert Massi, said Monday that Horowitz was not a suspect and that he has an alibi for the hours leading up to when he found his wife. Horowitz had breakfast Saturday with Massi and then spent the afternoon working with colleagues on the Polk case before returning home and finding his wife about 6 p.m. Saturday. Vitale’s murder has drawn even greater media attention to a case that has already had more than its share of drama. Polk is accused of murdering her husband, Felix Polk, after 20 years of marriage, though she claims she acted in self-defense. The two met when she was 15 and he was her therapist, more than 25 years her senior. They were going through a bitter divorce at the time of the 2002 killing. Since the charges against her were filed, Susan Polk has fired several of her attorneys and had planned to represent herself before hiring Horowitz last month. The two met when Horowitz, a popular TV legal pundit, was interviewing Polk for a show. Despite Vitale’s murder, Golde said he and Horowitz were willing to take on the Polk case when it begins again in December. The case now declared a mistrial had started last week. “We were doing well in there,” Golde said. “We were winning this case.” Walnut Creek attorney Michael Cardoza, however, said Horowitz could still change his mind. “I know he wants to see it through,” he said. “But things could change … I think it’s going to take some time to come to a rational, more well-reasoned decision, tempered with time and healing.” Regardless of whether Horowitz will indeed continue to represent Polk, Golde and others in the East Bay legal community agreed with Brady’s call for a mistrial. “It’s pretty difficult to stay in trial with an aggressive attitude,” said Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris. Investigating Vitale’s death simultaneous to the Polk trial could also potentially confuse a jury, Burris said, particularly when the news is fresh. Without much information, jurors could draw their own “Shakespearean theories” about a link between the two cases. “It just makes a messy situation for a jury,” Burris said. Cardoza agreed the judge made the right decision Monday. “Certainly, the emotion would be out there,” Cardoza said. “You just never know. It’s such a devastating event that you really don’t know how a jury would react.” Horowitz, 50, handled a wide range of criminal cases, from white-collar federal crimes to more than a dozen death penalty cases. He also defended former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko in a money-laundering and fraud trial. In May, a judge threw out half of the convictions against Lazarenko, who is under house arrest in the Bay Area. An Associated Press report was used in preparing this article.

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