Lawyers take request to resign from murder case to the Supreme Court
PRESCOTT - After having been turned down by the Arizona Court of Appeals in their attempts to quit the case and have the judge removed in the murder trial of Cesar Garcia-Soto, the two-man team is now turning to the Arizona Supreme Court.
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 refused, 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 nonexistent 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.
Presiding Judge David L. Mackey denied that motion and the attorneys filed two special actions with the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Earlier this month, that court declined to hear the case.
In court Wednesday, Napper said he would file a consolidated special action with the Arizona Supreme Court, asking both that Hancock be removed for cause and that he and Jones be allowed to withdraw as Garcia-Soto's counsel.
Hancock, noting that the court had not granted a stay, said she still wanted to set trial dates so the process could move along.
The problem, though, is that the various attorneys have full calendars ahead of them, including a federal trial for Jones.
Hancock ordered all the parties to give her their schedules up to August 2013. From those she would find suitable dates from what is anticipated to be a three-week trial.
She also noted that there was still a possibility of a plea agreement. A settlement hearing for that would take place before another judge.