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CHP murder hearing put off

Any discussion to reschedule hearings for two crucial pretrial defense motions will have to wait until late November for the man accused of killing a California Highway Patrol officer, a judge ruled Monday.

The district attorney's office has charged Columbus Allen Jr. II, 32, of Stockton with first-degree murder and three special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson ordered the defense attorney and the prosecutors to return Nov. 21 to discuss when to hold hearings about two defense motions -- a request to move the trial to another county and another to suppress statements Allen gave to authorities before he was arrested.

The pretrial hearings had been scheduled for today and Oct. 14 before Allen persuaded Johnson to release a lawyer who had spearheaded his defense for two years.

Attorney Ramon Magaña of Modesto led Allen's defense until a breakdown in communications led to his departure.

The change has pushed attorney John R. Grele of San Francisco into leading Allen's defense. Grele initially joined Allen's defense to help with death penalty issues.

During Monday's hearing, Grele told the judge he was not ready to discuss rescheduling the pretrial hearings because he has a trial pending in San Francisco and the defense's change of venue motion has not been completed.

"I need to do more work on it," Grele said. "It's not in the shape I thought it would be."

Johnson admonished Grele for not being ready. The defense attorney apologized for the unfinished motion and for the uncertain start date for his pending trial in San Francisco.

"I wish I was more available to this court," Grele said.

The court on Monday was still working on appointing another defense attorney to back up Grele. The American Bar Association recommends defendants in capital cases have at least two lawyers.

The court has identified a defense attorney to take the backup job in Allen's case, but the attorney had not agreed to take the spot.

Allen is suspected of killing CHP officer Earl Scott during an early morning traffic stop Feb. 17, 2006, on northbound Highway 99, just south of Hammett Road near Salida. When he was found, Scott was gripping registration papers for a Nissan Maxima in the name of Allen's wife, Bertera.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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