An appellate court has upheld a local judge’s ruling, so a trial will resume later this month for six defendants accused of murder in the death of a 20-year-old man in Modesto.
Jury selection was abruptly halted Aug. 28 and the case was put on hold as an attorney for one of the defendants asked the appellate court to overturn the judge’s ruling. Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff had denied a defense motion to have Michael Terrill Sebourn prosecuted separately.
Sebourn and five other defendants are charged with murder in the death of 20-year-old Erick Gomez.
The 5th District Court of Appeals ordered jury selection and the trial for Sebourn to stop until it made a decision on the appeal from Sebourn’s defense attorney, Dan Johnson. He also was contesting a ruling in an evidentiary issue involving Sebourn’s statements to police.
The jury selection process began in early August. The pool of potential jurors who showed up at the courtroom Aug. 28 was excused from jury duty and sent home.
Zeff didn’t want to have the jury pool waiting for weeks until the appeal decision was made. Rather than making those potential jurors return a month later, a new jury pool will be brought in and the selection process will start over.
Friday, the appellate court denied Johnson’s petition and ordered the trial to resume. The trial is expected to continue Sept. 24, and jury selection likely will start shortly after that.
Court officials moved the trial to a former federal bankruptcy courtroom in downtown Modesto because it provides more space for the defendants and their attorneys. More important, it reduced the security risks that might have resulted from clogging a courtroom with defendants, attorneys and court staff.
Gomez was attacked Feb. 14, 2013, on Vera Cruz Drive near Coffee Road and Floyd Avenue in north Modesto. Court documents filed by the prosecution say the attack on Gomez was motivated by ongoing violence between Sureño and Norteño street gangs.
Also indicted on a charge of murder in Gomez’s death were Jeanette Robles, Nancy Rodriguez, Elida Carranza, Jenna Cheyenne Sebourn, Dalia Mendoza, Lisandro Mendoza, Jesse James Sebourn and Giovani Barocio.
As jury selection began this month, Robles’ mental competency came into question. The judge decided that Robles would be prosecuted separately rather than stall the case while the court determined whether she was mentally fit to stand trial.
Dalia Mendoza also is being prosecuted separately and is scheduled to return to court Sept. 29 for a pretrial hearing.
Barocio, suspected of being the gunman, remains a fugitive. The other defendants remain in custody as they await trial.