Prosecutors decide about death penalty for man accused of killing sheriff’s deputy

Prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty against David Machado, who is accused of murder in the shooting of Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace.

Machado’s murder charge came with a special-circumstance allegation that made the case eligible for the death penalty. The deputy was fatally shot shortly before 8:30 a.m. Nov. 13, 2016, after he spotted a stolen van at the Fox Grove Fishing Access near Hughson.

The defendant appeared in court Thursday afternoon for a brief hearing. Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne informed the judge that the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office would not seek the death penalty against Machado.

The prosecutor also confirmed that a preliminary will begin Nov. 18. Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff will hear testimony in the hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence for Machado to stand trial. The hearing next month is expected to last two to three days.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager told The Bee that her office informed Wallace’s family of her decision not to seek the death penalty before Thursday’s hearing. She also said her office always considers the input of the victims’ family when making these decisions.

“As with all cases where the death penalty is a legally permissible sentencing option, we consider the case as a whole as well as the statutory aggravating and mitigating factors that would be presented to a jury,” Fladager said.

Those factors include mental health issues, which would be presented in court after a conviction in the sentencing phase of a death penalty case, Fladager said.

In February, Judge Zeff declared that Machado was mentally competent and reinstated the murder case, which had been suspended for two years.

In the mental competency hearing, the defense argued that Machado has a long-established delusional disorder, and the defendant was described as “extremely guarded” and unwilling to communicate with his attorneys.

Mayne told the judge in February that Machado was functioning well and his mental illness was treated by medication. He said that his condition had improved, and he was more willing to cooperate with his attorneys.

On Sept. 23, Machado was in court after refusing to continue taking his medication. After hearing testimony that Machado’s delusions could return if he refused the medication, Judge Zeff ordered him to continue it as prescribed.

Fladager told The Bee that her decision not to seek the death penalty against Machado was not influenced by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s death penalty moratorium.

In March, Newsom signed an executive order halting the death penalty in California. The moratorium will be in place for the duration of Newsom’s time in office. After that, a future governor could decide to resume executions.

JBL Wallace Shooting1
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputies searched the Orchard Village Mobile Home Park on Sunday for David Machado, suspected of killing Deputy Dennis Wallace. Joan Barnett Lee

Machado, 40, 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 carjacking charge stems from an incident in Keyes about 10 minutes after Wallace’s shooting. A white Kia was carjacked. Machado was then identified as the suspect. Authorities issued an alert asking people to look for the car, a Kia Rio, and a statewide manhunt ensued. Machado was captured several hours later in Tulare County.

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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.