State

Judge moves Allen trial to Sacramento

Accused cop killer Columbus Allen Jr. II will be tried in Sacramento County, a Stanislaus County judge ruled Thursday.

He could face the death penalty if he's convicted in the February 2006 slaying of California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott.

Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson said Sacramento was the most convenient of the three counties on a final list of trial locations that included Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.

Johnson acknowledged there may be "concerns" about media coverage of Scott's slaying by Sacramento television stations. But he said the Sacramento-area coverage did not factor into moving the trial.

"My decision on change of venue was based on the pervasive publicity of The Modesto Bee," Johnson said.

Modesto and Stockton are part of the Sacramento television media market in terms of local news coverage.

Johnson's decision was the first change of venue granted from Modesto since Scott Peterson was tried in the slaying of his wife, Laci, in 2004.

Johnson also noted Sacramento has the highest percentage of black residents — about 10 percent — of the three counties. The defense said a more diverse community than Stanislaus County, which is 3 percent black, 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 nor Marin, his top choices, made the final cut. Grele said he may appeal the decision.

Defense questions fairness

"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 holding 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. 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 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.

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

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