MARTINEZ -- A preliminary hearing judge on Wednesday dismissed a Pittsburg woman's murder charges and ordered the 30-year-old to trial on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly causing her boyfriend's fatal head injury.

However, the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office says it is still pursuing a murder case against Julie Ann Holland in connection with 50-year-old Shelton Tyrone Johnson's death, despite Judge Cheryl Mills' ruling.

Authorities said Johnson was intoxicated and standing on a sloped, concrete driveway Jan. 27 when Holland pulled him backward to the ground so hard that she ripped off his shirt collar.

"There was so much force propelling his body back that he couldn't save himself," said Holland's prosecutor, deputy district attorney Mary Knox. "Then, while he's motionless on the ground, she rifles through his pockets and goes back inside and leaves. She never did anything to help him; the neighbors called the ambulance."

Johnson, whose relationship with Holland was described by police as off-and-on and mutually combative, died of a traumatic head injury Feb. 13 upon being taken off life support. Holland was charged last month with murder, robbery and a special allegation that the crimes were committed while she was out on bail for a car arson case.


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Mills heard two days of preliminary hearing testimony before holding Holland to answer on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter -- the lowest on the totem pole of homicide charges, punishable by two to four years in state prison.

Holland's criminal complaint, however, will continue to reflect the original charges. If the defense wants the murder and robbery charges dismissed for good, it must file and prevail on a motion that the prosecution presented insufficient evidence to support its case at the preliminary hearing, Knox said.

"As long as there was a holding order on a felony charge, (a prosecutor) can file what you believe the evidence showed at prelim," she said.

Holland's attorney, deputy public defender Aaron Burack, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but his boss, Public Defender Robin Lipetzky, said Burack is in a good position once he brings the issue before a second judge. She noted that Mills mulled over the prosecution's evidence for several days before announcing her decision.

"The presumption is the judge knew what she was doing," Lipetzky said. "This was not a snap decision; this is something she really thought out."

Knox said she is prosecuting Holland for murder under two theories: That she is guilty of first-degree murder by killing Johnson during the commission of a robbery, and that she is guilty of second-degree murder by committing an act that she knew had the potential to cause great bodily injury or death.

Holland remains jailed in lieu of $1.075 million bail. She's due back in court May 28.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.