PHOENIX — A 12-week search involving hundreds of law enforcement officers failed to turn up the remains of a missing Phoenix woman believed to be a homicide victim, but police said there’s enough evidence to win a conviction of the man charged with killing her.

Before the murder trial of Robert John Interval begins later this year, police had hoped to find the body of Christine Mustafa, 34, in a Phoenix-area landfill, The Arizona Republic reported .

The search was called off earlier this month, and police said it cost nearly $1.5 million.

Without the victim’s body, Phoenix police Sgt. Alan Pfohl said the current evidence against the ex-boyfriend should still secure a conviction. The evidence from a body has even hurt prosecutions in some cases, he said.

An absent body can help a prosecution by making it harder for the defense to argue against a prosecutor’s theory, said Roland Steinle, a retired Maricopa County Superior Court judge and a former public defender.

“It favors the prosecution if there is no reasonable doubt that the person in fact died,” Steinle said. “Because then any disagreement as to manner of death hurts the defense. If you don’t know the manner of death, then how do you (argue) it?”

With a body missing, a defense could argue that a killing was done in self-defense, or that it was not premeditated. But the question of if a defendant was responsible for disposing of the body still comes into play, Steinle said.

“That really favors the state,” Steinle said. “Why would you dispose of a body if you did nothing wrong?”

Interval, 38, pleaded not guilty last June to first-degree murder. The newspaper was unable to reach his defense attorney for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to provide a prosecutor to comment on the case.


Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com