California Highway Patrol officer Tom Killian nearly made it through his 27-year career without being roused by the dreaded call.
At 5 a.m. Feb. 17, 2006, it came: "Officer down. Possible 11-44" -- the code for a fatal.
Killian, now retired, still has scratches on his Ford Expedition from backing into his garage door that couldn't open fast enough as he rushed to the crime scene on Highway 99.
He knows Columbus Allen Jr. II will face trial in the slaying of his CHP colleague, 36-year-old officer Earl Scott, who authorities say was shot after pulling over a speeding vehicle near Salida.
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But during the 4½ years since Allen's arrest, Killian has had his hopes up before.
Stanislaus County's most watched murder case has been set and reset for trial five times. Three lead defense attorneys have bowed out. Local publicity prompted a judge to grant a change of venue, sending Allen's trial to Sacramento.
On Monday, the 34-year-old Stockton man, still housed in a jail cell in downtown Modesto, likely will face Stanislaus County Judge Hurl Johnson for the final time.
Allen's attorney wants Johnson to reconsider his pick of Sacramento as the spot for the trial. The defense repeatedly has pushed for a Bay Area location.
'Maybe' is all anyone knows
Meanwhile, Modesto prosecutors are readying their command center at the Sacramento County district attorney's office, optimistic they'll be in Sacramento Judge Patrick Marlette's courtroom Tuesday to begin what could be a four-month case.
"We very much look forward to finally getting started," District Attorney Birgit Fladager said Friday.
So, after years of stops and starts, is it really going to happen this time?
"Maybe" seems to be the most honest answer anyone can give.
Also left unsettled is a defense petition still before a state appeal court in Sacramento to take Marlette off Allen's case. The appellate court has yet to rule.
Last-minute appeals -- especially on major issues such as the trial's location -- are common in cases in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, said retired Alameda County prosecutor James Anderson, who sent 10 people to death row during his career.
"That's kind of the norm in a capital case where nobody really wants to make the call if it's going to result in an automatic reversal down the line," Anderson said. "We want to get the case tried as quickly as possible. The defense does not."
But even if this trial date sticks, Killian knows he may never get the answers he seeks.
Allen steadfastly has maintained his innocence, claiming he is being set up because he is a black man with a criminal record.
Killian and his colleagues want to know why, on a routine traffic stop, Scott had to die.
"It was a traffic ticket. It was a traffic ticket," Killian said. "Why would you take a life? Why would you cut someone's life short for a traffic violation?"
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.