A Los Angeles court yesterday (08SEP05) cleared a sound engineer of stealing a batch of Ray Charles' master tapes while working on the late legend's last studio album.

TERRY HOWARD, 48, was arrested in February (05) after police, acting on a tip-off from a Ray Charles Enterprises employee, raided his Burbank, California, home and seized master tapes and recordings.

The case against Howard was dismissed by the Los Angeles Superior Court two days into a preliminary hearing into whether there was sufficient evidence for a trial.

The court ruled that Howard had not "intended to permanently deprive the victims of the property".

Howard, who won three Grammy Awards for his work on Charles' final album, GENIUS LOVES COMPANY, had made no attempt to sell the Charles recordings.

His lawyer STEVE CRON told the court Howard, who worked with the late R+B star for 20 years before his death, had the tapes in his possession legally.

Charles died in June 2003, aged 74.