Court delays homicide trial, will add defense team member

PRESCOTT – Officials delayed Alberto Leyva Montoya's first-degree murder trial date for at least the third time in more than a year.

Montoya, 40, faces a murder charge stemming from the shooting death of Marcelino Mendoza Gatica. He also faces charges of aggravated assault, forgery and weapons misconduct. All of the charges reportedly have a connection to Gatica's death.

A Prescott park ranger found Gatica's body in his vehicle in Granite Creek Park in February 2001. He had suffered a fatal gunshot wound to his chest.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Robert Brutinel postponed the trial, previously scheduled to begin this past Wednesday, to allow Montoya's defense attorney, Suzanne Schmelter, time to find a co-counselor for the case.

Schmelter said she is prepared to go to trial but would prefer to have another person to help her.

"Two heads are better than one," she said. "You need someone to brainstorm with. It's just protection for Mr. Leyva (Montoya) so that everything is done properly."

She added that her former paralegal took another job and is unable to work with her on Montoya's case.

Defense attorney Ray Hanna offered to help Schmelter but discovered he has a conflict. Hanna is representing Keith Hornaday in a DUI case and Hornaday reportedly is also a victim in Montoya's case. Authorities believe that Hornaday's gun was the "murder weapon."

Hanna told Brutinel at a hearing Friday that he does not want to be involved in Montoya's case because of the potential appearance of impropriety.

Public Defender Dan DeRienzo said most of the public defenders and attorneys who have contracts with the Public Defender's Office also have conflicts with the case. He faced a similar situation when Montoya's former defense attorney filed a motion to withdraw as counsel several months ago.

"I just don't know where else to turn," DeRienzo said, adding that Brutinel may just have to appoint someone.

The judge agreed. He told DeRienzo that he intends to set the trial to begin either in late October or early December. He asked DeRienzo to make a list of the attorneys available during those times.

Schmelter added that Montoya would prefer to have a trial as soon as possible.

Brutinel continued the status conference to Sept. 12. He likely will set a trial date at that time.

Contact C. Murphy Hébert at mhebert@prescottaz.com.