Trial of accused in CHP officer's death delayed until Oct. 14

The Stockton man accused of killing a California Highway Patrol officer during an early-morning traffic stop two years ago won't go to trial next month, because his attorneys aren't ready to proceed, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson said he cannot push the death penalty case to trial March 4, because defense attorneys have not completed their investigation and need to line up expert witnesses to support their claim that Columbus Allen Jr. II is innocent.

As he pushed the trial back to Oct. 14, the judge said he has a duty to ensure a fair trial, even though he is disappointed by the delay. He also sparred with Allen, who initially declined to waive his right to a speedy trial, then reluctantly agreed to the new timeline.

"I'm not happy about what's going on," Johnson said. "But there's not much I can do about some of these things."

Officer Earl Scott's body was found about 4:40 a.m. Feb. 17, 2006, after a passing motorist heard a shot, saw someone drop to the ground and circled back to the scene, which was on northbound Highway 99, south of the Hammett Road exit.

The investigation quickly focused on Allen because Scott was gripping registration papers from a 1990 Nissan Maxima owned by Allen's wife. A few hours later, Allen and his wife showed up at the Stockton Police Department to report that their car had been stolen.

Allen, 32, has been held without bail ever since.

According to a transcript of a grand jury hearing in June, prosecutors think Allen shot and killed Scott because Allen was driving on a suspended license and had a gun. As a felon who had been convicted of transporting cocaine in 1998 and auto theft in 1999, possession of a weapon was enough to send Allen back to prison.

Investigators said cell phone records place Allen in the vicinity. Witnesses poked holes in Allen's alibi, saying he was not at a Stockton home as he claimed. And forensic testing showed the presence of gunshot residue in the Nissan and on a sweat shirt Allen was wearing a few hours after Scott died.

The case slowly has been working its way through the legal system, with defense attorneys Ramon Magaña of Modesto and John Grele of San Francisco promising numerous challenges that have not materialized, including:

An effort to throw out the grand jury indictment, which says Allen must stand trial for first-degree murder.

Questions about the validity of forensic testing and a motion to suppress evidence obtained before a judge signed a warrant allowing a search of Allen's home.

A proposal that the trial be moved to another county, where potential jurors have not been exposed to news accounts of Scott's death and Allen's arrest.

Defense attorneys said they have not been able to draft proposed motions, because they have been engaged in pro- tracted negotiations with the district attorney's office over the testing of evidence and the release of investigative reports.

The judge said he would delay the trial because of the complexity of the case.

Allen often objects to the motions attorneys bring on his behalf, and the hearing Wednesday was no different.

Allen initially declined to waive his right to a speedy trial, saying he preferred to go to trial in March because he does not want to waive any right that could affect his ability to appeal a conviction based on the ineffectiveness of counsel.

Later, he said he doesn't think his attorneys can be ready for trial in October. He also said he has been ill, has ringing in his ears and could not hear what was going on. And he complained that he has been left with no say over his own case.

"Even though I don't want to waive time, do I have a choice?" Allen said.

The judge said he wanted Allen's input as part of the official record, but would delay the trial with or without Allen's consent.

"From a practical standpoint, you're kind of stuck," Johnson said.

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

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