Crime

August 6, 2014

Judge removes defendant from Modesto murder trial; mental competency questioned

A judge on Wednesday removed a defendant from a trial set to start this month, because the court is trying to determine whether she’s mentally competent to face a murder charge in a Modesto gang-related attack.

A judge on Wednesday removed a defendant from a trial set to start this month, because the court is trying to determine whether she’s mentally competent to face a murder charge in a Modesto gang-related attack.

Jeanette Robles’ mental competency came into question Monday when her attorney, Stephen Foley, informed the court that his client might have a developmental disability.

Robles was one of seven defendants set to stand trial this month, charged with murder in the death of 20-year-old Erick Gomez. He was attacked Feb. 14 on Vera Cruz Drive near Coffee Road and Floyd Avenue in north Modesto.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff said Wednesday that he didn’t want to stall the murder trial. Jury selection has begun, and he said the process can’t be completed if the court is trying to determine whether a defendant understands the charge against her and can assist in her own defense.

“I’m not going to wait two or three weeks to have her evaluated,” Zeff said in court about Robles.

Because there are so many defendants, the trial was moved to a more spacious former bankruptcy courtroom in downtown Modesto. The trial, which is estimated to last at least three months, could run into scheduling conflicts for those involved if the trial were significantly delayed.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan argued against Robles’ removal from the trial. He told the judge that Robles is one of the primary defendants in the case because it is believed she played a lead role in the attack on Gomez.

The prosecutor said psychologist Phil Trompetter was set to be appointed to evaluate Robles’ mental competency Wednesday afternoon. Brennan argued that the evaluation could be fast-tracked and not create a significant delay in the trial.

Judge Zeff told the prosecutor that if either side is dissatisfied with the psychologist’s findings, they are entitled to a jury trial to determine whether Robles is mentally fit to stand trial on the murder charge. He said expediting the evaluation won’t ensure the trial will avoid a significant delay.

“I just don’t see any way around it,” the judge told the attorneys. He then ordered that Robles be prosecuted separately.

Court officials moved the trial to the former federal courtroom because it provides more space for the seven defendants and their attorneys. More important, it reduced the security risks that might have resulted from clogging up a courtroom with defendants, attorneys and court staff.

While Zeff is presiding in the murder trial, another judge is handling all of his other cases in his regular courtroom at the state courthouse.

Additional sheriff’s officials have been assigned to provide security at the former bankruptcy court. A one-year lease for the courtroom, adjacent office space and a jury deliberation room cost the court about $130,000. The state Office of Security provided additional funding for security cameras and distress signals.

Court documents filed by the prosecution say the attack on Gomez was motivated by ongoing violence between Sureño and Norteño street gangs.

Those indicted on a charge of murder along with Robles are Nancy Rodriguez, Elida Carranza, Jenna Cheyenne Sebourn, Dalia Mendoza, Lisandro Mendoza, Jesse James Sebourn, Michael Terrill Sebourn and Giovani Barocio.

Dalia Mendoza is being prosecuted separately and is scheduled to return to court Sept. 29. Barocio, suspected of being the gunman, remains a fugitive. The other defendants are still in custody.

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