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Judge: Allen can't get fair trial locally
Columbus Allen Jr., the man accused of murdering California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott in 2006, has generated too much publicity in Stanislaus County to receive a fair trial. That was the determination of Judge Hurl Johnson in Monday's decision to grant a change of venue.

Johnson could decide to move Allen's murder trial to another county or hold the trial in a Modesto courtroom using a jury pool from a county that wasn't exposed to extensive media coverage.

The decision came after Allen's attorney, John R. Grele of San Francisco, asserted that his client received a barrage of publicity that has tainted any chance for a fair trial. Johnson commented that the Allen case and coverage of the Scott shooting has "evidence of more than mere awareness of behalf of the public.The gravity of the crime, the status of the victim, the content of the publicity and the extent of the publicity exceeds anything this court has seen in the community other than the Peterson case."

Rarely is a trial moved outside of the county. Exceptions have been made in extraordinary cases, the last being for the Scott Peterson trial. Due to massive national media exposure, the Modesto man was tried in Redwood City for the murder of his pregnant wife, Lacy Peterson, in 2004.

Johnson will be consulting with Stanislaus County prosecutors and Allen's defense team at a hearing to decide where the trial should be held or if a jury should be brought in.

Jury consultant Edward J. Bronson of Chico analyzed news coverage of the Scott murder and of Allen court proceedings and concluded that most people have formed a definite opinion that Allen is guilty of the fatal shooting. Bronson said about two-thirds of those he surveyed believed Allen is guilty based on what they have read in newspapers or seen on TV. He wrote in a legal document that "the passage of time in this case has not shown a reduction in news articles or public recognition."

During Allen's trial, set to begin on Jan. 12, prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Scott's attorney will motion in court Sept. 9 to suppress evidence taken from Allen's car and house.

Officer Scott, a 36-year-old resident of Hughson, was shot to death during a Feb. 17, 2006 traffic stop on Highway 99 near Hammett Road in the Salida area.

Allen, 33, insists he didn't kill Scott but evidence - including inconsistent alibis - suggests otherwise, say prosecutors.

Alan Cassidy, a deputy district attorney with Stanislaus County, asserts that Allen shot Scott because was driving with a suspended license. Because he was illegally carrying a gun, said Cassidy, Allen was staring at more prison time since he was a felon who was convicted of cocaine transportation in 1998 and auto theft in 1999.

Mortally wounded Scott was found holding registration papers of a 1990 Nissan Maxima registered in the name of Allen's wife, Bertera Allen. Allen, a Stockton resident who attended Ceres High School in the 1990s, showed up at Stockton Police headquarters less than five hours after the shooting claiming that his car had been stolen. The car was later found ditched near Lathrop.

Authorities believe Allen ditched the car after the shooting before appearing at the home of friend Christopher Hicks in Stockton.

Shortly after his arrest, swabs were taken from Allen's hands and sweatshirt to determine if there was any gunpowder residue. According to the transcripts, Allen did have traces of gunshot residue that is consistent with firing a gun toward the right side of the car while being seated behind the wheel. The car's door frame and front passenger seat also contained traces of muzzle powder.

Allen claims that he fired the gun three days earlier after becoming enraged that he couldn't find his dog.

Police seized Allen's cell phone and records which showed that Allen was in the Manteca area at 4:42 a.m. on the morning of the shooting. Scott had been shot at approximately 4:40 a.m.

Portia Dagayray, a female friend, said Allen spent the night in her south Modesto home, but that he didn't leave until 5 a.m. Allen said he spent Feb. 16 dealing drugs before ending up at Hick's residence for the night. Allen told detectives that he woke up at 6 a.m. to learn that his car was missing. Detectives said the story is implausible since Allen claims he left the keys in the ignitition of the car, where he claimed that have stashed a pound of marijuana and a .38-caliber revolver.

Duane Hicks, the son of Christopher Hicks, said Allen showed up at 6 a.m. He was intent on washing mud off his hands and shoes. Allen asked Hicks to trade his sweatshirt for a coat.

Prosecutors say that a computer used by Allen contained five songs written and recorded by Allen. The lyrics to the rap song talked about killing cops.

Allen attended Ceres High School during the 1991-92 and 1992-93 school years before transferring to Franklin High School in Stockton in his senior year.

Scott was nearing his fifth anniversary with the CHP upon his death. He had been assigned to the Modesto division of the CHP for three years after starting out in the Santa Cruz area. Scott previously worked for the California Department of Corrections at the Sierra Conservation Center near Jamestown. From June 1996 to August 2000 he was a reserve officer with the Modesto Police Department. At that time Scott, who never married, lived with his best friend and fellow officer Robert Hart on Soda Canyon Drive in Ceres.