A former Ceres man facing the death penalty in the death of his teenage daughter will represent himself in court, giving him the ability to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and argue in front of a jury.
Along with the capital murder charge, Mark Edward Mesiti is charged with more than 40 counts of sexually abusing his 14-year-old daughter, Alycia Mesiti. Her body was found buried in a Ceres home’s backyard six years ago.
The defendant also faces sexual abuse charges involving two other girls, according to a criminal grand jury indictment. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has denied all special circumstances allegations.
Mesiti, 47, unexpectedly asked to represent himself Tuesday morning, moments before a crucial hearing was supposed to start. His attorneys were expected to challenge the charges against their client, arguing there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support allegations that Mesiti killed his daughter while engaged in or trying to commit sexual abuse on the girl.
I have some grave concerns that this is being done for the wrong reasons. I’m hoping that’s not true.
Judge Dawna Reeves, about defendant representing himself in court
Defense attorneys Martin Baker and Doug Maner were expected to ask the court to drop the murder charge, along with the sexual abuse enhancements. But the defense requested that the hearing be postponed, which was denied by Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff. The defense also asked the judge to close the courtroom to the public for the duration of the hearing, which the judge also denied.
That’s when Mesiti told the judge he wanted to legally represent himself. Judge Zeff then asked Mesiti whether he was ready to proceed with Tuesday’s hearing. Mesiti said he was not, because he had read only a rough draft of the motion to dismiss the murder charge and enhancements.
The case was then sent to Judge Dawna Reeves, who will preside over the capital murder trial.
“I have some grave concerns that this is being done for the wrong reasons,” Reeves told Mesiti about his request to represent himself. “I’m hoping that’s not true.”
The judge asked the defendant whether he understood well all 52 criminal charges against him and the enhancements. Mesiti told her he understood all the allegations listed in the “voluminous” indictment. “I’m fully aware of it, your honor,” he said.
Judge warns defendant
Reeves warned him about what’s involved when a defendant acts as his own attorney. She told him there will be no special help for him from the court, and that there will not be any extra assistance from the prosecutor assigned to the case.
The judge told Mesiti that he will be responsible for all the duties his attorneys would handle. She also warned the defendant that he can’t later appeal a ruling or verdict, claiming he wasn’t capable of acting as his own attorney. She advised Mesiti that a defendant asking for self-representation is “almost always unwise, especially in a case of this magnitude.”
The defendant said he completed high school and has some community college education. Mesiti, who remains in custody at the county jail, told the judge that he has access to a law library and some help from consulting attorneys, so he will be capable of handling the case. “I intend on putting things together,” he said in court.
Authorities on March 25, 2009, discovered the girl’s body buried in the backyard of a Ceres home where Mesiti’s family lived when the girl disappeared in August 2006. He had already moved to Southern California when the girl’s remains were found.
The murder case has been mired in numerous postponements, including several requests by Mesiti seeking new court-appointed defense attorneys. Prosecutors obtained a criminal grand jury indictment against Mesiti so the case would skip the preliminary hearing phase and move straight to trial.
Nearly two years passed before Mesiti was arraigned on the indictment. The trial has not been scheduled; Mesiti’s trial cannot be scheduled until his attorneys have a chance to challenge the evidence presented to the grand jury behind closed doors.
Mesiti told Judge Reeves that he needs to review the motion challenging the prosecution’s evidence and decide whether he needs to change certain aspects of the legal document or withdraw it from the court’s consideration.
Access to evidence
Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees argued that she was worried about the court giving Mesiti access to photos that she said depict sexual abuse of the girl. The prosecutor suggested that a prosecution investigator could meet with Mesiti and show him the photos, instead of leaving the photos with Mesiti to keep while in jail.
The prosecution argues that the girl was drugged, and that Mesiti photographed himself sexually abusing his daughter while she was unconscious.
Baker told the judge that his law firm was willing to stay on the case as advisory counsel, because it would be the most efficient remedy if Mesiti were to decide later that he no longer wanted to represent himself in court. Maner told the judge that he would be willing to stay on the case, because a death penalty case requires that an indigent defendant have two court-appointed attorneys.
The judge said Baker and Maner were now relieved from the case, and she will decide at a later date whether any attorneys will be appointed to assist the defendant. Reeves also said it’s possible Mesiti can be assisted by one attorney, but that she needs to do research on that issue.
Mesiti is scheduled to return to court Friday so the court can reschedule the hearing to challenge the prosecution’s evidence.