Judge won't let attorney for accused CHP killer to withdraw

A judge on Friday denied a lead defense attorney to withdraw from the death penalty case against a man accused of killing a CHP officer four years ago near Salida.

John R. Grele of San Francisco was tapped to defend Columbus Allen Jr. II against capital murder charges in September 2008, the fourth person to lead Allen’s defense team.

Allen, 34, of Stockton is charged with killing California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott on Feb. 17, 2006.

During Friday’s two-hour-long hearing, Judge Hurl Johnson said it would be against the interest of justice to allow Grele to step away from the case now as it nears its July 26 trial start date.

“Mr. Grele has been on this case for three years now,” Johnson said. “He knows the case better than anyone.”

Grele declined to comment about the judge’s ruling after the hearing. Lead prosecutor Alan Cassidy also declined to comment.

Grele had filed a motion to withdraw from the case in Sacramento County Superior Court, where Allen will be tried after getting a change of venue from Stanislaus County.

In the Sacramento County court filing, Grele says the case had become “too difficult” for his family, including three young children. He wrote that his future extended absences to defend Allen and a lack of funding for Allen’s defense have generated “additional stress.”

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.

Allen’s case has been beset by delays, including five trial start dates and a change of venue to Sacramento County Superior Court because of “pervasive publicity” in Modesto.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at 578-2394.

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