DeMocker trial delayed again; case temporarily reassigned to new judge
PRESCOTT - The murder trial of Steven DeMocker is once again on hold after a judge on Thursday granted a defense attorney's request for a delay and ordered Yavapai County Presiding Superior Court Judge David Mackey to take over for Judge Warren Darrow, at least temporarily, to hear a settlement conference.
In a written order, Judge Michael Bluff, writing for Darrow, said "extraordinary circumstances exist and that delay is indispensable to the interests of justice."
DeMocker's retrial on a first-degree murder charge was just three weeks away, but his attorney, Craig Williams, last week expressed doubt that his team could deal with the large volume of evidence recently disclosed by the state. He argued that it has "crippled the defense's ability to prepare for trial, review the disclosure, research and hire its own experts and prepare to confront the state's evidence."
Deputy County Attorney Jeff Paupore said last week that the state had received a good deal of new evidence as well but could deal with researching it during trial, and said the trial date should not be moved.
However, Williams said he did not have access to the "army of staff" the county attorney has and could not be ready in time.
Bluff ordered that the continuance be granted. He also ordered all pending motions put on hold until after a settlement conference, to be held by Mackey.
Mackey last week expressed an interest in reassigning Darrow from the trial, saying Darrow had been under a heavy workload for months with the recently-concluded James Arthur Ray trial.
Although there has been no decision on whether Mackey will take over the trial, he said last week that only he, Darrow and Bluff were available to hear it.
As part of the order, the jurors already summoned will be excused from serving on the case.
The settlement conference is essentially an opportunity offered by Mackey to allow DeMocker to discuss a plea agreement. There is no indication thus far that DeMocker would accept such a deal, or that the state would offer one, but both sides have agreed to meet and talk about it.
A court-imposed gag order prevents either side from publicly discussing the case.