A potential conflict of interest prompted a judge on Monday to remove a defense attorney from a capital murder case for a man accused of murdering his teenage daughter and burying her body in the back yard of their Ceres home.
Mark Edward Mesiti, 45, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 14-year-old daughter, Alycia Mesiti. He also faces 44 counts of sexually abusing his daughter, including rape, committing lewd acts upon a child, sexual penetration with a foreign object, sodomy, oral copulation and using a minor to pose or model sexual conduct.
Defense attorney Robert Chase told the judge he had a potential conflict of interest that would prevent him from representing Mesiti. He was serving as the defendant's "Keenan counsel," a second defense attorney who would handle the penalty phase if Mesiti was convicted as charged.
"I do not want to abandon this client, and I feel I am, but it's absolutely necessary," Chase told the judge.
Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the judge that removing the defense attorney from the case definitely would delay scheduling a preliminary hearing, but there was no way she could successfully oppose Chase's request based on his statements to the court.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John Freeland agreed to relieve Chase and scheduled Mesiti to return to court Feb. 4 for another pretrial hearing. The court will have to appoint a new Keenan counsel.
Robert Orenstein will remain as Mesiti's defense attorney handling the trial phase. In July, Freeland denied Mesiti's motion to have the court remove Orenstein from the case.
The judge heard Mesiti's reasons for the request of a new court-appointed attorney in a closed courtroom. These hearings are closed to all but the judge, defendant, defense attorney, bailiff and court reporter.
The defendant remains in custody without bail at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. A special enhancement has been added to Mesiti's charges, alleging that he committed murder before or during rape, sodomy, oral copulation or rape by an instrument, according to a criminal complaint. The enhancement makes the case eligible for the death penalty.
The criminal complaint claims that most of these sexual acts were committed while the victim was drugged, sometimes with anesthesia, so she could not resist. Authorities said they believe the sexual abuse occurred from July 2005 through May 2006. The criminal complaint further claims that Mesiti killed his daughter on or about Aug. 16, 2006.
Mesiti's live-in girlfriend, Shelly Walker-Welborn, told police that month that Alycia had run away from their rented home in the 3500 block of Alexis Court. But Alycia's mother, Roberta Allen, called Ceres police to say she did not believe her daughter had run away and that Alycia should be classified as a missing person.
Alycia's body was unearthed March 25, 2009, from the back yard of the Alexis Court home. In the meantime, Mesiti and Walker-Welborn had moved to Los Angeles.
Days after the gruesome discovery, Los Angeles police arrested Mesiti, who was convicted March 18, 2011, of manufacturing meth. He was returned to Stanislaus County in June 2011.
The prosecutor has filed additional sex abuse charges against Mesiti involving two other girls. One girl was 8 years old when she was sexually assaulted, authorities said, and the other was 16 and 17 years old when she was assaulted. The victims are identified as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 in court documents, and authorities are not disclosing their relationship to Mesiti.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.