MODESTO — A judge on Tuesday removed a prosecutor from a death penalty case involving a father accused of sexually abusing and murdering his teenage daughter in Ceres. The Stanislaus County district attorney's office and the state attorney general's office will challenge the judge's ruling in the appellate court.
On the same day, the judge announced that a criminal grand jury has indicted Mark Edward Mesiti in the death of his daughter, Alycia Mesiti. His arraignment on the charges listed in the indictment was postponed until Sept. 23.
Deputy District Attorney Meghan Greerty told the judge that the defendant's recusal motion to remove prosecutor Annette Rees from the case is an attempt to delay the case. "(Mesiti) has manufactured a story to get the prosecutor off the case," Greerty argued before the judge's ruling Tuesday afternoon.
Alycia was reported missing in August 2006. Her body was discovered March 25, 2009, in the back yard of an Alexis Court home in Ceres where Mesiti used to live. Mesiti and the rest of his family had moved to Los Angeles, where he was convicted in 2011 of manufacturing methamphetamine.
The defendant testified in the recusal hearing Tuesday, claiming he spoke to Rees several times during an investigation into Gregory Joseph Ulrich, who later pleaded no contest to molesting Alycia in 2005.
Rees testified in the hearing that she didn't recall observing a detective question Alycia about Ulrich in August 2005 or ever speaking to Mesiti about the case. However, she said it's common for a prosecutor to observe such an interview and no longer have any involvement in the case.
The prosecutor 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.
Robert Orenstein, Mesiti's attorney, told the judge it's up to a jury to decide who is telling the truth. He said his client will testify in the trial and he will seek to have Rees testify as well.
"The jury has the right to decide whether she's being truthful," Orenstein argued.
Mesiti sat on the witness stand Tuesday morning wearing a red-and-white jail inmate jumpsuit and shackles on his wrists and ankles. A bailiff sat near him as he testified. He is being held in custody without bail as he awaits trial.
The defendant said his daughter was distraught when she told him Ulrich had sexually exposed himself to her, shown her pornography and tried to arrange a meeting with her. She was afraid nobody would believe her, he said, but she had kept one of Ulrich's handwritten notes.
Ulrich was a registered sex offender but not listed on the state's Megan's Law website. For a few months before the reported incident, he had worked for Mesiti's computer business, run out of a modular home on Faith Home Road.
Mesiti testified that Rees and sheriff's Detective Joe Mendonza observed from a separate room while another detective questioned Alycia. Mesiti said he spoke with Rees and Mendonza after the interview, when the prosecutor said the information wasn't enough to prosecute Ulrich. Mesiti testified he "was pretty upset" when the first thing Rees told him and Mendonza was "that we were wasting her time."
The defendant claims the prosecutor also said it would have been better had more illicit acts occurred before Mesiti called police. Mesiti testified that he told Rees, "So you're telling me I should've waited until my daughter was molested, so it would be easier to prosecute (Ulrich)."
Ulrich was convicted of felony child molestation against Alycia, according to court records and testimony from another prosecutor who filed charges against him.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John Freeland said Mesiti's testimony was "not entirely convincing," noting discrepancies with testimony from other witnesses. He said the evidence indicates authorities moved quickly to investigate and prosecute Ulrich, despite Mesiti's claims that Rees was reluctant to move the case forward.
Sting operation claimed
Mesiti also testified about Mendonza and Rees urging him to convince Alycia to participate in a sting operation in which they would use his daughter as bait to lure Ulrich to a meeting at a park to arrest him. Mendonza testified that he never would have suggested such a plan because it goes against department policy to put a victim at risk.
Greerty argued that Mesiti referred to photos recovered in the Ulrich investigation of his unconscious daughter in sexually suggestive positions. She pointed out that Mendonza, the lead investigator in the Ulrich case, testified that only one photo of Alycia was found.
But the judge told the attorneys the issue before him was admissibility of evidence, not whether he believes Mesiti was telling the truth on the witness stand.
The judge said the defendant claims another man, Ulrich, was convicted of molesting Alycia, released from custody fairly quickly and was not under restraint when Alycia went missing. Mesiti was the first to call police, and he insists he aggressively urged authorities to arrest and prosecute Ulrich.
Freeland went on to say the defendant at trial will claim that he was not involved in his daughter's death and that no rational person involved in similar alleged acts with the same victim, his daughter, would invite attention from law enforcement.
Ultimately, a jury will have to decide whether Mesiti is telling the truth.
The judge said Rees' involvement in Mesiti's trial could present an unfair advantage for the prosecution. He said the prosecutor would have a lot of time in front of a jury, and the jurors might side with her argument challenging the defendant's credibility based simply on her professionalism in court.
Freeland ordered that Rees immediately be removed from Mesiti's case, but he stayed that order until prosecutors can appeal his ruling.
With the grand jury indictment against the defendant, Mesiti's case skips the preliminary hearing phase and moves straight to trial.
But with the prosecutors challenging the judges ruling, the defense requesting copies of the grand jury transcript and the uncertainty of who will prosecute Mesiti, its unlikely the trial will take place anytime soon.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.