Former Morro Bay cold case can go to trial

March 12, 2015
James Lypps

James Lypps

A San Luis Obispo judge has overruled a colleague in a once-cold Morro Bay murder case, determining Wednesday that the prosecution has a case worthy of trial. [Tribune]

Nipomo resident James Lypps, 64, has been arrested for murder twice since early December. Lypps is accused of killing his wife Sherre Ann Neal-Lypps, 62, who was found submerged in the bathtub of their then-Morro Bay home in 2009.

Last month, Judge Donald Umhofer ruled that there was not enough evidence to rule out suicide, nor a clear motive to proceed with the murder trial. Umhofer ordered sheriff’s deputies to release Lypps from San Luis Obispo County Jail.

A day after his release, Lypps was arrested again, upon an order from the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office. He returned to jail and court proceedings have since resumed.

On Wednesday, Judge John Trice ruled that the prosecution has presented enough evidence to suggest a homicide occurred and ordered Lypps to return to jail. Trice’s ruling followed testimony this week from a sheriff’s sergeant in the county coroner unit, as well as from the man who performed the autopsy following Neal-Lypps’ death.

Both expert witnesses testified that Neal-Lypps died by homicide, not suicide. Their conclusions mirror the coroner’s report in the case, which states that the official cause of death is asphyxiation due to strangulation and drowning.

Morro Bay police did not make an arrest in the case for more than five years, due in part to an oversight of evidence. A recent cold case investigation revealed that police did not process the victim’s fingernail clippings for DNA.

When police finally sent the fingernail clippings to the Department of Justice crime lab, they returned with Lypps’ DNA on them.

Prosecutors have argued that Lypps killed his wife in order to collect her Social Security money and use it to pay the mortgage and other bills. As evidence, prosecutors presented a letter allegedly written by Lypps in which he states that he thought he was going to get his wife’s Social Security and use it to make the mortgage payment.

“I was wrong,” the letter states. “Something is very wrong with my brain.”

Defense attorney Matthew Guerrero has argued that Neal-Lypps committed suicide. Guerrero said Neal-Lypps suffered from depression, had recently attempted suicide and had been placed in an involuntary psychiatric hold shortly before her death.

Guerrero has also argued that Neal-Lypss was abusive to her husband and that neighbors had stated she was often the aggressor during fights.

Lypps is due to return to court on March 26 for an arraignment.

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Humm, DNA evidence under a wife’s fingernails? Unless James had serious scratches on him

then I would say it’s probably perfectly natural to have your husbands DNA

under your finger nails. Scratch his back, adjust his hair, use the same towel or face cloth,

engage in a “loving romp” etc. and you will most likely collect his skin cells.

As for him saying that he thought he would collect her SS benefits to pay the mortgage, well

if he said that after she was found deceased, it sounds like he was trying to figure out how

to pay the bills. No life insurance and nothing but a little SS check hardly sounds like a

motive. This case stinks, don’t get me on the jury with such flimsy sounding evidence.

What ever happened to “reasonable doubt” ?

I couldn’t agree with you more Cindy. And now the D.A. doing a little Judge shopping, this fella doesn’t have a chance. It’s very poor police work from the beginning by Morro Bay PD and now the everyone’s trying to make up for it.