State

Stanislaus judge says murder trial delay for Columbus Allen will be the last

Columbus Allen Jr. II won't go to trial in the slaying of a California Highway Patrol officer until January, nearly four years after Earl Scott's death, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Allen's attorney, John R. Grele of San Francisco, told Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson there had been delays in his investigation and that he wouldn't be ready for trial until April.

"It's a very dire situation," Grele said.

Johnson didn't agree to the April date but pushed the trial to Jan. 12. Allen was set to go to trial Sept. 1. Johnson said he would not postpone the trial again.

"A case reaches a point where it needs to proceed to trial," he said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Alan Cassidy said the move was a familiar one, citing a similar decision in February to delay the trial several months so attorneys could complete their investigation and line up expert witnesses.

During that hearing, though, Allen sparred with the judge, initially declining to waive his right to a speedy trial but eventually agreeing to the new timeline.

Johnson asked Allen on Tuesday if he were OK with pushing back his trial again because he'd been reluctant in the past.

"I don't have a problem with a continuance," Allen told the judge.

Allen, 33, of Stockton is charged with 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, Ber-tera.

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.

Grele has asked for Allen's trial to be moved from Modesto, saying the case's extensive coverage means his client can't get a fair trial.

To move the trial, Johnson would have to be convinced that Allen could not get a fair and impartial jury in Modesto, because of widespread publicity that is deemed inaccurate or inflammatory.

Johnson said he will issue a written opinion on whether to move the trial in a week.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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