Merced Sun Star — The two inmates accused of killing federal correctional officer Jose Rivera at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater are now set to go on trial in July 2014, more than six years after the brutal slaying that was partially captured on prison videotape.
It's a long wait, vexing to some, but not unique. Another accused Atwater prison killer, who prosecutors say murdered his cellmate in 2003, is also awaiting a 2014 trial date. Time elapsed from alleged crime to final verdict: Nine years.
The long delays reflect, in part, the many complications involved in capital murder cases. In both of the alleged Atwater prison murders, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
In the Jose Rivera case, moreover, prosecutors and defense attorneys had both wanted even more time, proposing that trial start in early 2015. But in a ruling quietly issued earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro declared that the Rivera case "has already suffered" sufficient delay over the past five years due to a combination of procedural complications and a pre-trial appeal over a mental competency hearing.
"During this time, counsel for the defendants have had ample time to conduct pre-trial and mitigation investigation and discovery, have consulted with numerous experts, and (could) develop a close working relationship with their clients,” Pro wrote in the March 1 ruling.
The setting of the trial date for defendants Joseph Cabrera Sablan and James Ninete Leon Guerrero also lays the groundwork for a crucial set of other pre-trial questions, which include: Will the Justice Department continue to pursue the death penalty against Leon Guerrero? Attorneys for Leon Guerrero have indicated they will file a motion declaring that he is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible, under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, for the death penalty. continue reading...