Columbus Allen Jr. II likely won't go to trial on charges of killing a California Highway Patrol officer until September, more than 3½ years after Earl Scott's death.
The 32-year-old Stockton man is accused in the Feb. 17, 2006, shooting of Scott during an early morning traffic stop on northbound Highway 99, just south of Hammett Road near Salida.
The district attorney's office has charged Allen with first-degree murder and three special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty. He is being held without bail and appeared in court Tuesday morning.
Efforts to find a second lawyer, or "Keenan counsel" necessary in death penalty cases, continued, with lead attorney John R. Grele of San Francisco telling Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson he had found a likely candidate.
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Grele suggested Johnson appoint Martin Sabelli, another San Francisco defense attorney. Although Sabelli never has worked on a death penalty case, Grele said he was knowledgable in jury selection and pretrial motions.
"He is perfectly suited to this case," Grele said.
Just as importantly, Sabelli is available. Johnson said he would prefer to contract with a local attorney, for easier logistics, but nobody on the court's list was available for trial in June, when Johnson wanted to set Allen's case. Sabelli, Grele said, could be ready in September.
Allen has gone through a number of attorneys, first objecting to the public defender's office, then parting ways with Robert Orenstein and Ramon Magaña. Last month, local attorney Ernie Spokes was released after he couldn't work with Grele and had conflicts in his calendar.
Johnson said death penalty trial experience isn't a requirement. "Everybody's got to start somewhere," the judge said.
Johnson and Chief Deputy District Attorney Alan Cassidy, the lead prosecutor, had wanted to proceed as soon as March, but both said they recognized that wasn't likely.
The case will return to Johnson's courtroom for trial- setting Jan. 5.
Johnson also scheduled hearings on Grele's motions to suppress evidence and to move the trial out of Stanislaus County on Feb. 24 and March 24, respectively.
Bee City Editor Patty Guerra
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