CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - A much-heralded break in a 1982 Lower Township cold case came to a quiet end Friday when the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office asked a judge to dismiss the murder indictment against George J. Carty III.

"There is presently insufficient evidence to proceed with this prosecution," states a court order submitted to Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten's chambers Friday. The order is awaiting the judge's signature.

"Short of finding any new evidence, it's pretty much game, set, and match for Carty," defense attorney David Stefankiewicz said Monday.

The dismissal order comes nearly two years after a statement Carty made to investigators in March 2007 was first ruled inadmissible. The statement, made in a West Virginia State Police barracks, was the crux of the state's case.

In 2009, Batten found that West Virginia State Police Sgt. James Merrill, who administered a polygraph test to Carty, failed to properly advise him of his rights and then, when Carty initially balked during the interview, continued with the polygraph anyway.

The court also took issue with Merrill's interview technique, in which he used hypothetical questions and asked Carty to imagine the "possibilities" or to visualize scenarios related to the murder of Lower Township resident John Attenborough.

At one point, however, Carty said to Merrill, "I'm just totally making this (expletive) up ... 'cause I was not there."

"I chalk it up to somebody who did exactly what the interrogator told him to do. He was giving make-believe answers to make-believe questions," Stefankiewicz said.

Stefankiewicz said he expected the dismissal order would have been handed to the judge at Carty's next scheduled court date Thursday, but instead, "I guess this is the prosecutor's way of tiptoeing away quietly into the night after persecuting Carty for almost four years."

First Assistant Prosecutor J. David Meyer said Monday that it was common to submit an order for dismissal directly, eliminating the need for a court appearance.

The decision to order the dismissal comes nearly four years after Carty was arrested at his home in Richmond Heights, Ohio. Carty, a 2005 graduate of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, was planning to start a residency program there at the time.

But on Dec. 18, 2007, police went to the home he shared with his wife, Cheryl, and arrested him in connection with the July 27, 1982, killing of Attenborough.

Attenborough, who was 57, had been beaten and left on a dirt road in what is now the Tranquility subdivision. He and Carty once worked together at the Wildwood Golf and Country Club in Middle Township, and Carty was interviewed immediately after the murder.

As time passed, the homicide eventually became part of the Prosecutor's Office's cold case files. Then, as part of a review, investigators traveled to West Virginia, where Carty was living in March 2007, and questioned him at a State Police barracks.

The arrest, which came months later, was lauded by the Prosecutor's Office as an example of good detective work.

But once the case was in court, prosecutors were dealt with several setbacks.

In October 2009, Batten dismissed the indictment because he found a detective misled the grand jury with respect to the presentation of DNA evidence. No DNA evidence links Carty to the crime.

A second grand jury indicted Carty, but Batten ruled the taped statement inadmissible in December 2009.

"Certainly the suppression of his statement was a disappointment to our office," Meyer said.

Stefankiewicz said Monday that the dismissal is something he would have liked to have seen take place years ago.

"You could almost see the way this case was going," he said.

Stefankiewicz said one of the more frustrating aspects of the case was the length of time Carty spent in jail, particularly after Batten ruled the statement inadmissible.

"When we got that statement thrown out, we thought that was the end," Stefankiewicz said.

"I always thought (the Prosecutor's Office) position with respect to bail was irrational," he added, noting his requests for a reduction were opposed until December 2010. "I think (Carty) spent a lot of unnecessary time in jail."

Carty, reached by telephone Monday, said he had not seen the dismissal order and found himself struggling for words.

"It ruined by life," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do now.

"I do insist that (the prosecutor) keep pursuing the case and find the person who did this. I didn't do it," Carty said, adding that he expected he and his wife would leave Cape May County but that he was not immediately certain about his long-term plans.

"This kind of wiped us out," Carty said.

Meanwhile, Meyer said the investigation into Attenborough's death remains active and his office awaits any future developments.

Attenborough's family has opted not to comment on the case over the years, but family members have sat in on the court proceedings.

Stefankiewicz speculated that the solution lies with the original investigation.

"Probably the solution to the puzzle lies in some of the dead ends that didn't pan out," he said.

How the case developed

July 27, 1982: John Attenborough, 57, is found dead on an unpaved road in Lower Township. George J. Carty III is among those questioned at the time.

1993: Carty moves to West Virginia, where he works as a nurse and meets his future wife, Cheryl.

2005: Carty completes medical school in West Virginia.

March 2007: Carty agrees to be interviewed during the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office's cold case review of Attenborough's death.

Dec. 18, 2007: Carty is arrested in Richmond Heights, Ohio.

Dec. 19, 2007: Carty is placed in the Cape May County Jail. Bail is set at $500,000.

June 3, 2008: Carty is indicted on a first-degree murder charge.

June 27, 2008: Carty enters a not-guilty plea at his arraignment.

Oct. 7, 2009: Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten dismisses the indictment because a detective misled the grand jury with regard to DNA evidence found at the scene.

Oct. 20, 2009: A second grand jury indicts Carty on the same murder charge.

Dec. 18, 2009: Batten finds the taped statement made in March 2007 inadmissible because of deficient Miranda warnings.

Nov. 3, 2010: Attorneys argue the case at the Appellate Division.

Dec. 23, 2010: The Appellate Division agrees with Batten's ruling and finds the statement inadmissible. It also takes issue with the manner of the interrogation and the hypothetical scenarios on which it relies.

Dec. 28, 2010: Batten agrees to reduce Carty's bail from $250,000 to $50,000. Carty's family posts bond and he is released.

Sept. 14: Defense attorney David Stefankiewicz receives an order from the New Jersey Supreme Court saying it will not hear an appeal from the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office.

Sept. 30: The Prosecutor's Office submits an order seeking to dismiss the murder indictment without prejudice.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716