Modesto — Attorneys failed to reach an agreement on a possible plea deal, so a judge Wednesday confirmed that a trial will start March 18 for one of two defendants charged with murder in the shooting death of a Modesto store clerk.
Ernesto Morales Jr., 24, and Mark Burgess, 25, both of Merced, are accused of gunning down Harinder Sanghera, 28, of Ceres on Dec. 4, 2009, during an attempted robbery. Sanghera was working at the Gas N Shop Market in the 800 block of South Ninth Street.
It's possible, however, that Morales' trial will be delayed. He is asking the court to appoint a new attorney to represent him.
Matthew Yeoman, Morales' defense attorney, had been negotiating the possible plea deal with Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, Yeoman told Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves that he relayed the offer to his client, including one detail the prosecutor says never was part of the offer. It's unclear what the detail was because it was not discussed in court.
Morales claims the miscommunication has harmed the working relationship between him and his attorney, so he no longer is confident in his legal defense.
The prosecutor told the judge he felt his communication with the defense attorney was clear, but he believes Yeoman simply misunderstood the offer.
Reeves cleared the courtroom for what is called a Marsden hearing, in which the defendant has a chance to explain why he wants a new attorney. The prosecutor is not allowed to attend the hearing, which is held behind closed doors.
After the hearing, the judge said she wanted more time to review what was said in court and examine case law on the issue. She scheduled Morales to return to court Friday morning for her ruling.
The defendants, who also have been charged with attempted robbery, remain in custody. Burgess is to return to court April 25 so the judge can reschedule his trial.
The shooting occurred shortly before 3:15 p.m. on a Friday. Witnesses told investigators that two men were seen running south on South Ninth after the gunfire was heard.
Stanislaus County sheriff's officials later released a sketch of two suspects they believe were trying to rob the convenience store. Burgess and Morales were arrested in the fall of 2011.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.