Handyman to be tried for murder in slaying of retired Villanova prof

Posted: March 27, 2014

JOSE DIAZ did not flinch yesterday when a city prosecutor presented DNA and bloody-boot-print evidence that allegedly linked him to the December stabbing death of retired Villanova University professor Carol Ambruster.

And at the end of the preliminary hearing, when Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni ordered Diaz to stand trial for murder, robbery and related counts, he remained just as unfazed.

Defense attorney Benjamin Cooper, after the hearing, told reporters that Diaz, 42, was a handyman at Ambruster's Germantown apartment building, he knew her and was sad to hear that she had been killed, but was not guilty.

"He didn't do it," Cooper said of Diaz. "It's only a preliminary hearing. We didn't get a chance to cross-examine them about [the DNA evidence]. We'll see what the investigation reveals."

Assistant District Attorney Mark Levenberg had a somewhat different take.

"There's no question Jose Diaz committed this crime," Levenberg said. "It was a brutal and horrific beating and robbery - and he'll be held accountable for it."

During the hearing, he told Deni that boots recovered from the defendant's house on West Hansberry Street near Greene contained blood from Ambruster, 69, as well as from Diaz.

Police officer John Taggart testified that footprints left in Ambruster's Wayne Avenue apartment, where the retired astronomy professor's lifeless body was found Dec. 9, were similar to the size 8 boots recovered from the defendant's apartment.

Taggart, of the Crime Scene Unit, and city EMT Joseph Gilmore testified that a large amount of dried blood was on the apartment floor, starting at the front door and trailing to the victim's body in the kitchen.

Ambruster's roommate found her body and called police to the second-floor apartment, where no forced entry was detected, police have said.

When he arrived on the scene, Gilmore testified, "what appeared to be a butcher knife" was still stuck in the victim's neck.

Her purse was open and near her feet, its contents scattered, he said.

Taggart testified that pants and shirts taken from Diaz's home are still being tested to determine if they contain any evidence.

Levenberg, however, said the evidence already collected points to Diaz.

"His boots had the victim's blood on them, they were found in his house. The footprint matches," he said. "This was a robbery - somebody who was looking for money, obviously desperate, and brutally beat and killed Ms. Ambruster."

On Twitter: @MensahDean

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