Defense attorney’s sudden death could stall case in killing of sheriff’s deputy

Watch Deputy Wallace’s accused killer at court; family react to ruling

Family and friends of Deputy Dennis Wallace embrace outside of court, shortly after a judge ruled his accused killer is competent to face charges.
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Family and friends of Deputy Dennis Wallace embrace outside of court, shortly after a judge ruled his accused killer is competent to face charges.

The murder case against a man accused of killing a Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy, delayed for two years, is again in limbo after the lead defense attorney suddenly died.

Deputy public defender Marlon Simon represented David Machado, accused in the 2016 shooting death of Deputy Dennis Wallace.

Machado, 40, is charged with fatally shooting Wallace shortly before 8:30 a.m. Nov. 13, 2016, after Wallace spotted a stolen van at the Fox Grove Fishing Access near Hughson. The case had been delayed for two years before the court determined Machado was mentally fit to stand trial.

Last week, Simon, 51, was in court with Machado asking the judge for more medical evaluation to know for certain that his client’s diagnosed delusional disorder will not interfere with his ability to communicate with his attorneys.

In court on Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Public Defender Matthew Slentz, who had been assisting Simon in Machado’s case, told the judge that a new lead defense attorney will be assigned to the case. He said that will hopefully happen by the end of next week.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Slentz told The Bee that the Public Defender’s Office will have to assign a new lead defense attorney to represent Machado because of Simon’s death. He said the new attorney will need time to get up to speed in the murder case, but it’s not known how much time will be needed.

Dennis Wallac_fitted.jpeg
Deputy Dennis Wallace Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department

Maureen Keller, the interim Stanislaus County public defender, declined to discuss Simon’s death and his time with the Public Defender’s Office. She referred The Bee’s questions about Machado’s case to Slentz.

At Wednesday’s brief hearing, the judge and the attorneys discussed Machado’s anti-psychotropic medication. Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne told the judge that Machado does have the capacity to consent to the medication.

Gabrielle Paladino, a forensic psychiatrist, treated Machado in late 2017 at Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo County. She has testified that she switched Machado to injected medication that had a lasting effect for 90 days and didn’t make him feel tired. The next injection is scheduled for Feb. 21.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff on Wednesday asked Machado if he will consent to the injection of anti-psychotropic medication. Machado answered “Yeah.”

So, the judge scheduled Machado to return to court on Feb. 21 for another pretrial hearing. Slentz told the judge the Public Defender’s Office could assign a new lead defense attorney by next week’s court hearing.

Simon had worked on Machado’s case for about two years. The court appointed the Public Defender’s Office to represent Machado during his arraignment hearing, two days after the deadly shooting. Several days later, Simon was assigned to represent Machado and made his first court appearance with his client.

Machado remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, first-degree robbery, carjacking and being a felon in possession of a gun.

The court now has to schedule a preliminary hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence for Machado to stand trial on the charges filed against him.

Machado’s murder charge comes with a special-circumstance allegation that makes the case eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors have not informed the court whether they will seek it.

Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.