The capital murder case of Columbus Allen Jr. II will be tried in Sacramento County, a Stanislaus County judge ruled today.
Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson said Sacramento was the most convenient of the three counties on a final list that also included Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.
"This is a San Joaquin Valley-type case," Johnson said.
Johnson acknowledged there was coverage in February 2006 of the killing of California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott by Sacramento television stations. But Johnson said he made the decision to move the trial because of "pervasive publicity" from The Bee.
Never miss a local story.
His August decision was the first change of venue granted from Modesto since the Scott Peterson murder case in 2004.
Johnson also noted Sacramento has the highest percentage of African-American residents — about 10 percent — of the three counties. The defense said a more diverse community than Stanislaus County, which is 3 percent African-American, is essential to getting a fair trial for Allen, who is black.
"We’re going to have a white officer, an African-American defendant, a law enforcement officer — (those issues) are going to follow this case wherever it goes," Johnson said.
The Administrative Office of the Courts, the state court administrative body, polled several Northern California counties and came up with the list based on available space, personnel and other factors.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Alan Cassidy said Sacramento was the prosecution’s top choice because of its proximity to witnesses and the convenience of transportation.
"We think all the logistics point to Sacramento," Cassidy said.
Defense attorney John R. Grele of San Francisco raised concerns during the hearing about the fairness of the process. Neither San Francisco or Marin, his top choices, made the final cut. Grele said he may appeal the decision.
"We seem to end up with counties the prosecution desires and none of the counties the defense wants," Grele said after the hearing.
Grele said keeping the trial in San Francisco would have saved as much as $200,000 by keeping the defense team close to home.
Allen, 33, of Stockton, is charged with shooting and killing Scott about 4:40 a.m. on Feb. 17, 2006. The slain officer was found at the edge of northbound Highway 99, just south of Hammett Road near Salida, holding registration papers for a Nissan Maxima registered to Allen’s wife.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Presiding Judge Jack M. Jacobson will now decide whether to send a Stanislaus County judge to preside over the trial. If not, a Sacramento judge may preside.
Allen’s trial date is set for Jan. 12.