Transcripts show Allen's story shifted in CHP officer's death

Columbus Allen's own words, uttered before he was arrested and charged with the murder of a California Highway Patrol officer, may be his undoing.

According to a transcript of a grand jury hearing in June that was released to the public late Wednesday, the 32-year-old Stockton man went from cooperative to defensive during a one-hour, 40-minute interview with Stanislaus County sheriff's Detective Frank Navarro.

Allen and his wife, Bertera, showed up at the Stockton Police Department less than five hours after officer Earl Scott was shot and killed on the side of Highway 99 just south of Hammett Road on Feb. 17, 2006.

They owned the 1990 Nissan Maxima everyone was looking for. The slain officer was clasping its registration papers in his left hand when he was found. The Allens said the car had been stolen.

Navarro, who had seen Scott's body lying under a tarp earlier that morning, told the Stanislaus County criminal grand jury that Allen became anxious and offered a story that did not seem plausible when he was pressed for details.

Allen said he had been making drug-selling runs around town the day before.

He said he spent the night at the home of music promoter Christopher Hicks of Stockton, waking at 6 a.m. to find that his car was gone. He said he left his keys in the ignition, adding that the car had a pound of marijuana and a .38-caliber revolver in it.

And he said the last time he fired the gun, a Smith and Wesson, was on Valentine's Day -- three days earlier.

"He said he was mad because he couldn't find his dog," Navarro said, relaying Allen's reason for firing the gun.

Later that afternoon, Allen was under arrest and held without bail. In the days to come, his wife was cooperating with the authorities -- turning over a computer that contained five cop- killing rap songs her husband wrote and recorded a year ear-lier -- and his alibi was in shambles.

Allen didn't want to turn over his cell phone, but Navarro found it along with Allen's wallet, in a truck parked outside the Stockton Police Department.

The authorities swabbed Allen's hands so they could test for gunshot residue. They also took his clothing, a black hooded sweat shirt that said PAC, short for the late rapper Tupac Shakur, and black sweat pants.

The grand jury on June 19 said Allen should stand trial on charges of first-degree murder, using a firearm in the commission of a crime and three special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty; his trial is scheduled to begin March 3.

At the three-day grand jury hearing, Deputy District Attorney Alan Cassidy contended that Allen shot and killed Scott because he was driving with a suspended license. Also, as a felon who had been convicted of transporting cocaine in 1998 and auto theft in 1999, the possession of a weapon was enough to send Allen back to prison.

Defense attorney Ramon Magaña said he will challenge the indictment and seek to suppress evidence prosecutors presented to the 16-member panel, including photos of the slain officer and recordings made by Allen.

He said such hearings are one-sided because the defense cannot present its case or cross- examine witnesses. "There's a lot missing," Magaña said.

Allen's attorneys moved to have the 547-page grand jury transcript sealed, but The Bee argued that state law mandated its release. Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson ordered it to be made public in July; the defense appealed and lost in the appeals court in Fresno, and Wednesday, at the state Supreme Court.

The district attorney's office attacked Allen's alibi by calling Hicks and his son to the witness stand.

Duane Hicks, 17, said he was sleeping on a couch in his living room when Allen knocked on the door about 6 a.m. He said Allen went to the bathroom where he washed mud off his hands and shoes. He said he wasn't interested when Allen asked to trade his sweat shirt for a coat.

Christopher Hicks said Allen told him his car had been stolen in Lathrop. Allen wanted a ride, but Hicks instead dropped him off at a nearby grocery store, where Allen was picked up by his wife and taken to the police station.

Bertera Allen said the Nissan Maxima was her husband's primary car, although registered in her name.

The other woman in Allen's life, Portia Dagayray, said Allen spent the night in her south Modesto home, arriving at 9:15 p.m. and leaving at 5 a.m. But authorities said they can place Allen in Manteca at 4:42 a.m. by tracking his cell phone calls.

A detective walked the 3½ miles from Belleview Street and Carpenter Road in Stockton, where the Nissan Maxima was found, to the Hicks home on Zeally Lane in one hour, 20 minutes.

And prosecutors said gunshot residue found on Allen's sweat shirt, right hand and the passenger-side door frame of his wife's car is consistent with Allen firing a gun while seated in his car.

Scott, who was working solo while his partner completed paperwork at the CHP's Salida office, died of one gunshot wound to the face. Fellow officer John Chituras was on scene within minutes, but it was too late.

"I reached down, I grabbed his hand, I called for help," Chituras told the grand jury. "I told him I was there."

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

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