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Mon, June 24

Judge again refuses to let lawyers quit murder case

Cesar Garcia-Soto

Cesar Garcia-Soto

PRESCOTT - A judge has once again denied a request made by attorneys for Cesar Garcia-Soto that they be allowed to withdraw as counsel in his capital murder case.

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

The motion to withdraw was based on lead defense attorney John Napper's argument 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 Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Cele 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 is a now 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.

Napper called that statement a "threat." In her order denying his motion, Hancock said it wasn't a threat, but that if "defense counsel refused to participate in any way in the penalty phase, this action would be akin to leaving the defendant without counsel and would clearly breach counsel's duty to their client."

She added that, if she allowed Napper and Jones to withdraw, their replacements "would be faced with the same issue" of whether they were willing to travel to Mexico.

Hancock set the next appearance for September.

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