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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Georgia judge has dismissed murder charges against the husband of a former Rose Festival princess who died after a fire at the couple's suburban Atlanta home.

Wayne Carr, a prominent Atlanta nursery owner, served three years of a life sentence in Georgia for allegedly setting fire in April 1993 to the couple's home. Patricia Carr died days later of smoke inhalation.

Judge Rowland Barnes ruled that Carr's right to a speedy trial was violated because the case has languished since 1997, when the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his 1994 conviction on arson and murder charges. The Supreme Court cited trial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.

Carr has been free on $100,000 bond since 1998 awaiting retrial. Barnes blamed the delay on the office of Fulton County's district attorney, Paul Howard.

"Where no reason appears for a delay, the court must treat the delay as caused by the negligence of the state in bringing the case to trial," Barnes said in his May 19 ruling.

Carr's attorney, Donald Samuel, said the prosecution delayed seeking a retrial because it lacked the evidence to convict Carr.

Patricia Carr's sister, Nancy Carruthers of Warrenton, said it was highly unlikely Barnes' ruling could be overturned, because so much time has passed.

Wayne Carr, now 67, was a former student body president at Willamette University where, in 1958, he met Patricia Holcomb, a talented musician who was a Rose Festival princess in 1957. She had graduated from Portland's Wilson High School.

They were married in 1961 in Portland.

The Carrs moved to Atlanta. In 1976, Wayne Carr bought the Hastings Nature & Garden Center, a nationally known seed catalog company. Patricia Carr became a prominent piano instructor.

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During the 1994 trial, Grace alleged that Carr, who admitted tapping his wife's telephone, set fire to their house after learning of her affair with another man and her plans to divorce Carr.

The defense argued that the fire was accidental.

Carr didn't testify at the trial but maintained his innocence in a courtroom statement afterward.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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