The Stanislaus County district attorney's office is seeking a criminal grand jury indictment 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.
Mark Edward Mesiti, 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.
It's unclear whether a grand jury has been selected or whether grand jurors already are listening to testimony. Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the judge she could not comment because the criminal grand jury is a "secret process."
Grand jury proceedings are held behind closed doors, and witnesses testify without the defendants or their attorneys present. Defense lawyers are allowed to provide prosecutors with exculpatory evidence to pass on to the grand jury. Rees told the judge she notified Mesiti's defense attorneys last week.
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The prosecution's attempt to obtain the indictment against Mesiti was revealed Monday morning as defense attorney Robert Orenstein asked the judge to stall the grand jury process until after a court ruling can be made over a motion to remove Rees from the case.
It's unclear why the defense wants the prosecutor off the case. Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John Freeland is scheduled to hear arguments over the recusal motion during a hearing Aug. 5.
Orenstein argued that the prosecutor shouldn't be presenting the case to the grand jury while the defense is seeking to have her removed from the case.
Freeland said he was not aware of any authority he has to delay a grand jury. The judge, however, told Orenstein he would be willing to listen to further argument if he could present a legal authority to support his request.
Orenstein told the judge he just wanted to make the court aware of the situation.
The judge rejected the defense attorney's request, saying he could not grant it simply based on a verbal request.
The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Mesiti's preliminary hearing initially was scheduled to start next week, but Freeland granted a defense request to postpone the hearing. Mark Sullivan, Mesiti's other court-appointed attorney, told the judge he could not be ready for the Aug. 6 preliminary hearing because he is involved in another death penalty case.
At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing, the judge determines whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. If the grand jury indicts Mesiti, the case skips the preliminary hearing and goes straight to trial.
Skipping the preliminary hearing phase is supposed to move the case along, but cases with an indictment typically are bogged in delays and defense challenges to the indictment itself. Defense attorneys say a preliminary hearing allows them to determine the strength of the prosecution's case against their clients.
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 alleges that most of the 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 that 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 methamphetamine. He was returned to Stanislaus County in June 2011.
In the additional sex-abuse charges involving the two other girls, one girl was 8 years old when she was sexually assaulted, authorities said, and the other was 16 and 17 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 the defendant.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.