Shenandoah National Park Murders

A federal judge has barred from evidence a Maryland man's phone call that prosecutors hoped would tie him to the 1996 slayings of two hikers in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.

Prosecutors had argued that 35-year-old Darrell Rice of Columbia, Maryland, killed the lesbian couple and then used a phone number from one of the victims' belongings to call the Spectrum Center for Gay and Lesbian Affairs in California.

The judge ruled that no evidence shows that the phone number was among the hikers' belongings at their campsite. The judge noted that the Spectrum number Rice called from his home combines two numbers Rice dialed regularly. Authorities contend that Rice killed Julianne Williams and Laura Winans because of their sexual orientation. The two New England women were found bound and gagged with their throats slit.

Rice is to stand trial July 24 in Charlottesville. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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