SACRAMENTO — A capital murder trial four years in the making must wait three more months before it begins.
A judge Tuesday granted the fifth delay in the trial of a Stockton man accused of killing a California Highway Patrol officer during an early-morning traffic stop near Salida in 2006.
The trial was to start Monday, but Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette pushed back the opening date to July 26, citing a mutual agreement between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Marlette estimated the case could last through October if jurors are asked to decide whether Columbus Allen Jr. II should be put to death.
Defense attorney John R. Grele of San Francisco argued for the postponement. He said Stanislaus County's "unwillingness" to pay for Allen's defense merited more time.
Although Allen lived in San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County taxpayers must pay for his defense because CHP officer Earl Scott was killed here.
Among Grele's complaints: that the county court has kept defense requests under submission for weeks or months, denied funding for paralegal help and refused to pay for a second attorney to travel to court.
"No competent, qualified counsel would proceed under these circumstances," Grele said. "If Stanislaus County wishes to execute Mr. Allen, they must fund both the prosecution as well as the defense."
County Counsel John Doering said the county can only pay bills authorized by a court order. But he called the payment process a "convoluted" one, involving several reviews over a period of days or weeks.
"I think that's part of the heartache," Doering said. "The county is not doing anything to frustrate payment to Mr. Grele."
The case against Allen has been beset by delays. More than a year and a half ago, Allen persuaded Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson to release a lawyer who had spearheaded his defense for two years. In August, Johnson granted a motion to postpone the trial to Jan. 12. Johnson had said he would not delay the trial again.
In October, Johnson agreed to move the trial from Modesto because of "pervasive publicity" about the case. Sacramento was chosen as the most convenient location.
Later that month, Marlette was picked to preside over the trial. Johnson said in court that he could not follow the trial to Sacramento for personal reasons.
Allen, 34, of Stockton, is charged with 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, Bertera.
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.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.