A defendant representing himself in a Stanislaus County death penalty case is asking the court to order sheriff’s officials to uncuff him while he meets with his legal team inside the jail.
This is the second time Mark Edward Mesiti has made this request. Superior Court Judge John Freeland initially ordered sheriff’s officials to uncuff Mesiti’s writing hand, but he later reversed his ruling. The defendant is hoping for a more favorable outcome from Judge Dawna Reeves, who is now handling Mesiti’s capital murder case.
Mesiti is accused of killing his 14-year-old daughter, Alycia Mesiti, and burying her body in the backyard of his Ceres home.
The defendant argues that sheriff’s officials at the jail are violating his constitutional rights by keeping his hands in cuffs while he’s supposed to be preparing his defense. Inmates’ cuffs are chained to a bolt on the floor in these attorney visiting rooms at the jail.
At a Friday afternoon hearing, Mesiti argued that while cuffed he cannot efficiently handle the voluminous court documents, photos, digital images and other materials associated with his case.
“I’m completely immobilized,” Mesiti told Reeves. “I’m wrapped in a straight jacket.”
Deputy County Counsel Marc Hartley argued that Mesiti seems to be exaggerating his limitations while cuffed. He says the safety of everyone in the jail should not be compromised because of Mesiti’s repetitive dissatisfaction with the discomforts of being incarcerated.
“He makes it seem like he’s being singled out,” Hartley told Reeves. “As far as I know, he is not.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees opposed Mesiti’s latest motion, telling the judge he can take some of the case documents back to his cell. She argued that Mesiti is again trying to stall the case. “This is set up to be another delay,” said Rees, who is prosecuting the case.
Authorities on March 25, 2009, discovered the girl’s body buried in the backyard of a Ceres home where Mesiti’s family lived when the girl disappeared in August 2006. He had already moved to Southern California when the girl’s remains were found.
Along with the capital murder charge, Mesiti is charged with more than 40 counts of sexually abusing his daughter, as well as sexual abuse charges involving two other girls, according to a criminal grand jury indictment.
Hartley argues that Freeland in May 2015 decided that cuffing the defendant’s hands is a valid jail security regulation. He said that Mesiti has already fully litigated this issue, so it can’t be litigated again.
“Here, defendant is seeking re-adjudication on the same cause of action with no change in facts save that another year has passed,” the county’s attorney wrote in his opposition filed July 22.
Mesiti argues that he had an attorney last year, and now he is planning his own defense strategy while incarcerated with the help of a court-appointed advisory attorney, investigators and, potentially, hired experts to analyze the evidence. He says the Sheriff’s Department is constitutionally obligated to provide him the facilities and means necessary for him to prepare for trial.
“The remedies the court has provided to offset the Sheriff’s Department’s deficiencies are useless without the use of his hands,” Mesiti wrote about himself in a response filed July 27.
Reeves said Friday that she will need some time to further review the arguments, but she plans on issuing a written ruling within a week. She scheduled Mesiti to return to court Sept. 23 for another pretrial hearing. His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 6.
Previous court rulings in Mesiti shackling issue:
▪ March 17, 2015: Defense attorney Martin Baker told Judge John Freeland that jail officials were depriving Mesiti of his “constitutional right to meaningfully participate in his own defense.” Mesiti wanted jail officials to unshackle him while he meets with his attorneys inside the jail. His attorneys have argued it’s difficult for Mesiti to review thousands of documents relating to more than 50 criminal charges listed in the indictment.
▪ April 1, 2015: Freeland ordered the jail’s staff to unshackle Mesiti’s writing hand after his other shackles are secured to the floor inside the room. Because this is a death penalty case, the judge said the defendant needs to be able to point to and refer to the thousands of documents in his case. The judge, however, said his ruling only applied to the Mesiti case. He told the attorneys he would have made a different decision in a case involving less serious charges and possible punishment.
▪ April 20, 2015: the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department filed an appeal. A few weeks later, the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal dropped the matter because the local judge had already vacated his previous order.
▪ May 5, 2015: Freeland reversed his ruling on the shackling issue. The judge said he reconsidered his initial ruling after determining that handcuffing both of the defendant’s hands is a valid jail security regulation, according to court documents.