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Wed, Oct. 16

Attorneys in murder trial ask judge for permission to file secret defense information

Cesar Garcia-Soto

Cesar Garcia-Soto

PRESCOTT - Having been rebuffed in their efforts to step down as attorneys representing Cesar Garcia-Soto in his murder trial, his defense team has asked the judge for permission to file information with her ex parte, which would keep it from the prosecution.

Garcia-Soto, 31, 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 has 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" to put anyone at risk.

He had first asked that Superior Court Judge Celé 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.

She refused, and Napper took his request to the Arizona Court of Appeals, which declined jurisdiction.

Now Napper is asking to file a document with the court that would describe "what (Garcia-Soto) believes an adequate mitigation investigation in Mexico would reveal." Napper said that information would prove that his client is prejudiced by his attorneys' unwillingness to travel to Mexico.

But, he said, it would "contain confidential information about Mr. Garcia-Soto and his family," so he asked that Hancock accept it without requiring it to be given to the prosecution.

Monday in court, Deputy County Attorney Paul Ahler said he had just received the motion and asked Hancock for more time to respond. She agreed to that.

After some discussion about scheduling for the 24-day trial, during which Napper said he and his co-counsel were behind on preparations, Hancock moved it from the planned September date to February 2014.

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