It’s been six years since authorities discovered the body of 14-year-old Alycia Mesiti in the backyard of a Ceres home.
Her father, Mark Edward Mesiti, is accused of sexually abusing the teenage girl and killing her. He has remained in custody inside a Stanislaus County jail cell for nearly four years, awaiting prosecution.
It’s been about two years since prosecutors obtained a criminal grand jury indictment to skip the preliminary hearing phase and move straight to trial. But Mesiti’s case remains stalled by legal challenges and the defendant’s requests for new attorneys.
On Tuesday, Alycia Mesiti’s great-aunt, Roberta Fitzpatrick, tried to ask the judge to stop the delays and move the case forward, but she wasn’t allowed to speak in court. Fitzpatrick shared her written statement with The Modesto Bee.
“These repeated delays for six years since Alycia’s body was found have taken a terrible toll on my family,” Fitzpatrick had written in a small notebook.
Prosecutors argued Tuesday that the defendant’s numerous delay tactics have violated the victim’s right to due process and a speedy trial.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Mesiti. The court appoints two attorneys for death penalty defendants; one handles the penalty phase if the defendant is convicted as charged.
The court has appointed Martin Baker and Doug Maner to represent Mesiti. The defense objected to Fitzpatrick speaking in court at this phase of the case.
Maner told the judge that a victim or the victim’s family is allowed to speak before a case concludes only if the court is considering releasing the defendant pending trial, but that is not happening. He also said the victim’s rights are designed for the victim and her immediate family, not extended family.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees argued that Fitzpatrick has attended every court hearing in Mesiti’s case for the past few years. Alycia Mesiti’s mother is too ill to attend, and the only other relative lives too far away. The prosecutor said Fitzpatrick, who is related to Alycia’s mother, is an appropriate representative for the victim’s family.
Maner told the judge the prosecution is trying to put the defendant to death, so his rights to a fair trial trump any perceived rights of the victim’s relative. Rees argued that Mesiti’s rights never trump the rights of the victim.
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge John Freeland said he has no personal dispute with letting Fitzpatrick speak in court, but he doesn’t see anything that grants him the authority to allow her to do so. “This court needs a target date (or trial date), and this court is doing everything it can,” the judge said.
The judge on Tuesday did not issue a ruling on Mesiti’s latest request for new court-appointed attorneys, which has been discussed in closed courtroom hearings since January. This is the fourth time the defendant has asked for such a hearing.
Freeland scheduled the defendant to return to court April 1, so it’s unclear if Mesiti will get new attorneys. If that happens, more time will be needed for his new attorneys to get up to speed on the case.
Several attorneys have been appointed to represent Mesiti; some have asked to be removed from the case because of conflicts of interest.
A July 2013 preliminary hearing was postponed when the prosecution was seeking a grand jury indictment and the defense filed a motion to remove Rees from the case because of a claimed conflict of interest. Freeland later removed Rees from the case, but his ruling was overturned by a state appellate court.
The grand jury indicted Mesiti in August 2013, but he has not been arraigned. The trial cannot be scheduled until he is, and his attorneys must have an opportunity to challenge the charges listed in the indictment and the evidence prosecutors presented to the grand jury behind closed doors.
Mesiti is charged with murder and more than 40 counts of sexually abusing his daughter, as well as sexual abuse charges involving two other girls, according to the indictment.
Another issue the court has to deal with before arraignment is a motion from Mesiti. He asked the court on Tuesday to order Stanislaus County sheriff’s officials to unshackle him when he meets with his attorneys inside the jail.
Mesiti says jail officials are depriving him of his “constitutional right to meaningfully participate in his own defense,” Baker told the judge.
The defense attorney said Mesiti wants the case halted until jail officials allow him to move his hands freely while speaking to his attorneys. Baker also argued that the defendant may be shackled only if there is a security risk.
Freeland emphatically said he would not stop the trial, saying he has discretion only on how defendants are secured while in the courtroom. “I don’t really have any control of what goes on at the jail,” he said.
Maner argued that the defendant has thousands of pages of documents in his case, and Mesiti has a lot of difficulty showing his attorneys those documents with his wrists shackled together. The defense attorney also said his client has a “clean” disciplinary record while housed at the jail.
Robert Taro of the County Counsel’s Office represented the Sheriff’s Department in court Tuesday. He told the judge that the department will challenge the defendant’s request. The judge told the attorneys he will take up the shackling issue during the April 1 hearing.