CERES — Testimony began Monday over an attempt to remove a prosecutor from a case for a father accused of murdering his 14-year-old daughter more than three years before her remains were unearthed from a Ceres back yard.
Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees is prosecuting Mark Edward Mesiti. The defendant, 45, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his daughter, Alycia Mesiti. He also faces 44 counts of sexually abusing Alycia, as well as sex-abuse charges involving two other girls.
Mesiti's defense attorneys are asking the court to remove Rees from the case because they say the prosecutor was involved in another sex-abuse case in which Alycia was the victim. In the other case, Gregory Joseph Ulrich pleaded no contest to molesting Alycia.
Robert Orenstein, Mesiti's attorney, said he will call Rees to testify about her knowledge of the Ulrich case, which he says creates a conflict of interest and should exclude her from Mesiti's case.
Rees testified Monday that the lead investigator indicated in his report that she attended an interview in August 2005, when Alycia was questioned about her sexual abuse allegation against Ulrich. But Rees said she doesn't remember the interview or anything else about that case.
Orenstein says his client spoke to Rees about the case, and that he wants to question her in front of a jury. He told the judge Mesiti was the first to ask law enforcement to investigate the sexual abuse by Ulrich of his daughter.
The defense attorney argued that a reasonable juror would not believe his client was involved in similar criminal conduct, as the prosecution has claimed, at the same time he is trying to get law enforcement to prosecute Ulrich "to the fullest extent of the law."
"They'd be under the same microscope," Orenstein said about his client's family in the scenario he proposed in court.
Deputy District Attorney Meghan Greerty argued that the defense attorney is free to make that argument at trial, but Rees observed Alycia's 2005 interview only from a monitoring room and never interacted with the victim or her father.
Accused of molesting, murder
A criminal complaint against Mesiti claims that most of the sexual acts were committed while Alycia was drugged. 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.
After that, Mesiti and his girlfriend had moved to Los Angeles. Alycia's body was discovered March 25, 2009, in the back yard of an Alexis Court home where Mesiti used to live.
Joe Mendonza, then a Stanislaus County sheriff's detective, testified that he arranged to have an investigator interview Alycia after her father claimed Ulrich was abusing his daughter.
He said he learned that Ulrich already had been convicted of sexually abusing a child and was required to register as a sex offender.
Typically, an investigator will question a possible victim in a room while the lead investigator observes from a monitoring room using video and audio equipment.
Rees, a victims advocate from the district attorney's office and a women's shelter representative, joined Mendonza in the monitoring room while Alycia was questioned, according to Mendonza.
Mendonza testified that he doesn't recall Rees directly speaking to Alycia or suggesting the victim be asked if she saw child porn on Ulrich's computer.
Orenstein argued that Rees monitored Alycia's entire interview and that it doesn't make sense she doesn't have any knowledge of what happened.
Rees, who said she has observed hundreds of interviews, said it's highly unlikely she would speak to a victim or a victim's parent, especially when she is not assigned to the case. Had that happened, she would have noted the conversation in the case file. "I don't remember ever having a conversation with him (Mesiti), ever," Rees testified.
It's typical for whichever prosecutor is available to observe interviews of possible child victims, Rees said. She also said it's common for prosecutors who observed an interview never again to be involved with the case.
Deputy District Attorney Elaine Casillas testified that she filed charges against Ulrich on Sept. 13, 2005, and that Rees didn't have any further involvement in the case after Alycia's interview. She said Deputy District Attorney Nate Baker was assigned to the case and prosecuted Ulrich.
Casillas said Ulrich in April 2006 was sentenced to a year in jail for molesting Alycia. Ulrich's time in custody was reduced later because the defendant suffered from terminal cancer.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Mesiti. Mark Sullivan, Mesiti's other court-appointed attorney, told the judge his client will testify when the recusal motion hearing resumes.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John Freeland scheduled Mesiti to return to court Wednesday to see if the attorneys will be available to continue testimony. If not, the hearing will resume later in the week. Mesiti remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.