An appellate court on Monday overturned a Stanislaus County judge’s decision to remove a prosecutor from a death penalty case. The defendant is accused of sexually abusing and murdering his teenage daughter in Ceres.
Mark Edward Mesiti is charged with murder and more than 40 counts of sexually abusing 14-year-old Alycia Mesiti, as well as sex-abuse charges involving two other girls, according to an indictment.
Alycia Mesiti was reported missing in August 2006. Her body was discovered March 25, 2009, in the backyard of an Alexis Court home in Ceres where the defendant used to live. Mark Mesiti and the rest of his family had moved to Los Angeles.
In August, Superior Court Judge John Freeland removed Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees from the case. The judge said in court that the defense plans to call Rees as a witness in the trial, which presents a conflict of interest.
The three-judge appellate panel determined that Freeland erred in his decision to remove Rees. The appellate court’s written ruling was posted online Monday afternoon.
“The trial court’s factual findings are relevant, and Mesiti did not satisfy his burden of establishing the existence of a conflict of interest,” wrote Justice Herbert Levy. Justices Jennifer Detjen and Donald R. Franson Jr. concurred with the written ruling.
Authorities believe Mesiti killed his daughter Aug. 16, 2006.
An affidavit written by Ceres police Detective Keith Griebel claims Mesiti admitted to burying his daughter, according to the appellate court’s ruling. The affidavit also says the defendant’s computer contained evidence that he had sexually assaulted his daughter several times while she appeared to be unconscious.
In a evidentiary hearing last year, Mesiti claimed he had spoken to Rees several times during an investigation into Gregory Joseph Ulrich, who later pleaded no contest to molesting Alycia Mesiti in 2005. Ulrich was sentenced to a year in jail and later died from cancer.
Rees testified in the hearing that she didn’t recall observing a detective question Alycia Mesiti about Ulrich in August 2005 or ever speaking to Mark 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.
Ulrich was a registered sex offender and had worked for Mesiti’s computer business, run out of Mesiti’s modular home on Faith Home Road. Mesiti has asserted that Ulrich is responsible for his daughter’s death.
He claims Ulrich was convicted and released from custody fairly quickly and was not under restraint when Alycia Mesiti went missing. Mark Mesiti was the first to call police, and he insists he aggressively urged authorities to arrest and prosecute Ulrich.
At the conclusion of last year’s hearing, Judge Freeland said Mesiti’s testimony was “not entirely convincing,” noting discrepancies with testimony from other witnesses. But the judge told the attorneys the issue before him was admissability of evidence, not whether he believed Mesiti was telling the truth on the witness stand.
The appellate court disagreed with Freeland, saying a conflict of interest does not exist if Freeland doesn’t believe Mesiti’s claims are true.
“When ruling on a recusal motion, the trial court bears the responsibility of assessing the credibility of evidence before it,” Justice Levy wrote.
Last year, Deputy District Attorney Meghan Greerty told Judge Freeland that Mesiti’s recusal motion was an attempt to delay the case by providing the court a manufactured story.
“We are gratified that the appellate court recognized that the facts, and the law supported our position,” said Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager. “We can now move forward with the prosecution of the case.”
But Mesiti’s case remains stalled. Defense attorneys Robert Orenstein and Mark Sullivan, who filed the recusal motion on Mesiti’s behalf, told Judge Freeland earlier this month that they no longer could represent the defendant.
Orenstein said in court that he received a “communication” from the defendant that resulted in a “complete breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.” But he would not share specific details because doing so would be a breach of the attorney-client privilege.
It’s still unclear who exactly will represent Mesiti. The court is trying to determine whether there are any conflicts of interest before appointing new attorneys.
The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail, where he is being held without bail. He is scheduled to return to court July 25.