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Mon, June 17

Lawyers will appeal decision to remove judge, quit murder case

Cesar Garcia-Soto

Cesar Garcia-Soto

PRESCOTT - Having been turned down in their attempts to quit the murder trial of Cesar Garcia-Soto and then have the judge removed, an attorney said the two-man team would next turn to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Garcia-Soto, 30, was arrested in February 2008 on charges of first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse in his 3-month-old son's death. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Lead defense attorney John Napper wants Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Celé Hancock removed from the case because of statements she made when he argued for a motion to quit as Garcia-Soto's counsel.

Napper argued that, because this is a death penalty case, he is obligated to undertake "an exhaustive investigation into the history and life of Mr. Garcia-Soto," but the fact that Garcia-Soto is a citizen of Mexico means that would have to take place in Mexico, and "the United States State Department has issued a warning asking all American citizens not to travel to that portion of Mexico (Cuidad Juarez in Chihuahua)."

Napper said he did not want to send anyone to Mexico to do the investigation because he found it "morally and ethically repugnant."

He had first asked that Hancock dismiss the death penalty, but when she denied that motion, he then asked that he and his co-counsel, Phoenix attorney Dennis Jones, be allowed to withdraw as counsel.

She denied that motion, but Napper renewed his request to withdraw, claiming there was a conflict of interest with Hancock. That conflict stems from statements made in a court appearance last year, in which Napper said that, in the event Garcia-Soto was found guilty, "I intend to call no witnesses during the penalty phase of this trial. None. The penalty phase will be non-existent because I refuse to participate in a farce."

Hancock said if that were to happen she would report him to the State Bar of Arizona.

Michael Terribile, another attorney for Garcia-Soto, then asked that she be removed from the case. He made several allegations against Hancock: that she communicated with a non-party to the case regarding a pending issue, read confidential reports regarding the defendant's intelligence and threatened to file a bar complaint against Napper, all of which are evidence of "bias and prejudice against the defendant," he wrote.

President Judge David L. Mackey denied that motion.

In court Tuesday, Napper said he would file a combined special action with the Court of Appeals, asking both that Hancock be removed for cause and that he and Jones be allowed to withdraw as Garcia-Soto's counsel.

Hancock said she still wanted to set trial dates so the process could move along, but Napper said "the dates set would be over our objections."

Hancock said she would keep March open for what would likely be a 24-day trial.

Although he did not say whether his client would accept it, Napper said the state "has informally extended (a plea) offer to Mr. Garcia-Soto."

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