Details now public in death of CHP officer

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday said the public should have access to a transcript from a grand jury hearing in the case against a Stockton man accused of killing a California Highway Patrol officer last year.

Among the highlights from the 547-page document:

  • Officer Earl Scott's flashlight was on, his nose and mouth were full of blood, his hands were up and he had no pulse when fellow officer John Chituras found him lying at the side of Highway 99, just south of Hammett Road, on Feb. 17, 2006.
  • Columbus Allen Jr. II, the man accused of shooting Scott once in the face, had written rap music lyrics that talked about killing cops.
  • The authorities found particles consistent with gunshot residue on Allen's hands and clothes, and on the front passenger seat and door frame of a car belonging to Allen's wife.

The voluminous document contains many telling details, including a recollection from Stanislaus sheriff's Detective Frank Navarro, who interviewed Allen shortly after Allen and his wife, Bertera, showed up at the Stockton Police Department to report that their car had been stolen.

Allen said he left his keys in the ignition, and he was worried because the car had a pound of marijuana and a .38-caliber revolver in it.

News of Scott's death filled TV channels that morning, and Allen seemed to mention the officer without any prompting from the detective.

"My fingerprints are on that gun," Navarro recalled Allen saying. "I don't even know if that was used when the officer was shot."

Allen, 32, has been in custody ever since.

Prosecutors from the Stanislaus County district attorney's office presented their case to the grand jury during a three-day hearing in June.

The 16-member panel returned an indictment June 19, charging Allen with first-degree murder, using a firearm in the commission of a crime and three special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty.

By law, transcripts of grand jury proceedings become public 10 days after they are delivered to the defense.

Allen's attorneys sought to seal the record, prompting litigation in Stanislaus County Supe-rior Court, where Judge Hurl Johnson ruled that the transcript should be released. Defense attorneys Ramon Magaña and John R. Grele appealed to the state's highest court, which upheld Johnson's ruling.

Magaña said he is disappointed with the court's ruling, because the public will hear about evidence that was not tested by the defense. He said much of what prosecutors presented was unsubstantiated hearsay and would not be allowed if he had been able to challenge it.

"The problem with the grand jury is that it is one-sided," Magaña said. "There are legal issues that never would have been presented to the jury."

In most cases, defendants are held for trial after a preliminary hearing at which prosecutors lay out their case in a public forum. Prosecutors took their case to the grand jury, which rarely happens in Stanislaus County, after setting and resetting the preliminary hearing six times.

The grand jury heard from a passing motorist, Jose Miranda of Ceres, who was driving to his job in Stockton when he noticed a traffic stop, heard a popping sound and saw the officer drop.

He got off the highway and circled back, traveling south on a frontage road, then jumped a fence and called 911 when he found Scott lying motionless in front of his patrol car.

"Honestly, I didn't want to turn around because I wasn't sure, but I'm a man of God and I believe in God and just the Holy Spirit made me turn around," Miranda told the grand jury.

The first officer to arrive, Chi-turas, told the grand jury he was only 500 feet away when he heard a dispatcher's emergency call and noticed Miranda waving frantically at the side of the road.

He found Scott lying in the grass, motionless. He called dispatch, saying "officer down," followed by "summon the world."

The idea that Miranda could be the killer flashed across his mind, but dissipated when he saw that Miranda was in a state of utter disbelief and fear.

Chituras then spotted a key piece of evidence: Scott was gripping registration papers from Bertera Allen's 1990 Nissan Maxima in his left hand.

Dr. Robert Lawrence, a pathologist, told the grand jury Scott died of one gunshot wound to the face, left of his mouth and above the chin. He concluded that Scott was shot from a distance of 8 to 18 inches, because Scott's chin and cheek were covered in residue from the muzzle flash.

Bertera Allen turned over a home computer used by her husband. Investigators said they found rap lyrics written in winter 2005 that included phrases such as "I haven't heard a good cop killing song in a while," and "We've got a cop killer, son."

Allen told the authorities he spent the night at the home of his friend, rap music promoter Christopher Hicks of Stockton, but investigators quickly blew holes in that alibi.

Portia Dagayray said Allen, her boyfriend, spent the night in her south Modesto home and left at 5 a.m. Hicks said Allen showed up at 6:30 a.m., saying his car had been stolen in Lodi.

A detective walked the 3.5 miles between the spot where Bertera Allen's car was found and Hicks' home on Zeally Lane. It took one hour, 20 minutes.

Allen tried to explain gunshot residue on his black sweat pants and sweat shirt by telling the authorities that he fired a gun three days earlier, on Valentine's Day.

A forensic scientist said particles shake off quickly, noting that some police departments won't test for gunshot residue more than four hours after an incident, believing it to be a futile exercise.

"The chances of someone having something left over from three days are, I would say, very slim," said Elana Foster of the R.J. Lee Group of San Leandro.

Bee staff writers Michael Shea, Michael Mooney, Merrill Balassone and Dave Peterson contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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