Defendants competent, judge rules

A judge deemed two defendants in a pair of high-profile murder cases to be mentally fit to stand trial and said they will face a jury this summer.

Kathy Bronzini, 49, is accused of beating her elderly landlord to death with a hammer in October 2007 after an argument. Joe Garcia of Riverbank died 12 hours later of blunt force trauma, authorities said.

Bronzini's trial is scheduled to start Aug. 3, Deputy District Attorney John Baker said Monday.

Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova also ruled Alvis Vernon Rhodes, 57, competent to stand trial. Rhodes is accused of running down a 39-year-old man while driving a Jeep Cherokee in May 2006. Witnesses said Rhodes hit Dale Little as he biked down a Modesto sidewalk after the two exchanged words.

Rhodes' trial is set to begin June 22.

Both were given a mental competency hearing, during which a judge decides if the accused understands what happens during the court proceedings and if they can help their lawyers defend them.

It's different than pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, which alleges the defendant did not understand the difference between right and wrong at the time of the crime.

Rhodes and Bronzini are being held in lieu of $2 million bail at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.