Mistrial in Santa Rosa 'three-strikes' stabbing case

Charges against a Santa Rosa man facing life in prison for an alleged third stabbing in 15 years were dismissed Tuesday after prosecutors declared they could not proceed with his trial.

Leland Pinola, 40, was charged in an August attack near Prince Memorial Greenway in which he was accused of stabbing another man in the neck. He had previously served time in prison for a 2006 stabbing at Santa Rosa's Courthouse Square and a 1998 attack in Mendocino County.

But the latest allegations seemed to unravel on the first day of trial Monday when the key prosecution witness, the man injured in the attack, took the stand. Carlos Romero Lopez, 27, identified Pinola as his attacker under questioning from prosecutor Karina Kowler but could not remember details on cross-examination, said Pinola's attorney, Walter Rubenstein.

Lopez began contradicting himself and appeared drunk or under the influence of drugs after the lunch break, Rubenstein said.

"The testimony wasn't going very well," he said.

Rubenstein said the prosecutor noticed, too, and she interrupted the trial to talk to Judge Shelly Averill.

She asked for a mistrial and Averill granted it, discharging the jury. The judge formally dismissed the case Tuesday and cleared the way for Pinola's release from jail.

Because the trial had already begun, Pinola cannot be retried.

Rubenstein said Pinola maintained his innocence and rejected an earlier offer to settle the case for eight years in prison.

"If he had been convicted he would have gotten 25 years," Rubenstein said.

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