The quest to place Mark Edward Mesiti on trial for the murder of his 14-year-old Ceres daughter has been fraught with delays from the start.
The latest delay, however, was resolved recently by an appellate court which ruled that a prosecutor should not have been removed by Stanislaus Superior Court Judge John Freeland last August. Freeland removed Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees from the case saying that Mesiti planned to call her as a witness and thus presenting a conflict of interest.
The former Ceres man has been behind bars since March 28, 2009 to stand trial for the first-degree murder of his daughter, Alycia Augusta Mesiti. Authorities say he raped and sexually molested Alycia during 2005 and 2006, and then killed her on or around August 16, 2006. On March 25, 2009, Ceres Police found her body in the backyard of 3576 Alexis Avenue in Ceres where the family was living at the time of her murder.
Justices from the 5th District Court of Appeals -- Herbert Levy.Jennifer Detjen and Donald R. Franson Jr. - met on June 18 to hear the argument and determined that no conflict of interest was established.
Mesiti claimed there was a conflict with Rees because he said he spoke to Rees about a 2005 case that convicted his acquaintance, Gregory Joseph Ulrich, of sexually molesting Alycia. Ulrich went to jail after pleading no contest but has since died from cancer. Rees denied ever speaking to Mesiti about Ulrich and said she didn't recall a detective question the girl about Ulrich molesting her during her Child Abuse Interviews, Referrals and Evaluation (CAIRE) interview. The testimony of several others investigating the case cast doubts on the truthfulmess of Mesiti's claim.
Mesiti's move to get Rees off the case, said Deputy District Attorney Meghan Greerty last year, was nothing more than a lie designed to delay his death penalty case.
The three appellate court justices cited the fact that Judge Freeland viewed Mesiti's remarks as untruthful. Freeland defended his decision in the Fresno court saying it was a matter of admissibility of evidence and not his personal views that Mesiti was less than honest. The justices disagreed with Freeland and said they felt there was no conflict of interest with Rees helping to prosecuting the case against Mesiti.
"When ruling on a recusal motion, the trial court bears the responsibility of assessing the credibility of evidence before it," wrote Justice Levy in his opinion.
Mesiti claims that he's innocent of murder and that Ulrich murdered his daughter. Ulrich reportedly had been released from jail three days prior to Alycia's believed murder date. Ulrich was a registered sex offender who worked for Mesiti's home-based computer business on Faith Home Road.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager said her office looks forward to moving the case forward, although it's unclear who will represent Mesiti in court. His prior defense team of Robert Orenstein and Mark Sullivan are off the case. Mesiti had sent a communication to Orenstein that led to the "complete breakdown of the attorney-client relationship," said Orenstein.
In late 2012, Judge Freeland relieved defense attorney Robert Chase from the Mesiti case. Chase announced to the court that he had a potential conflict of interest. Chase was designated as Mesiti's "Keenan counsel," or the attorney who would represent Mesiti during the penalty phase should a jury find him guilty. Chase said he did not wish to abandon Mesiti but was forced to do so.
Death penalty cases require two lawyers defending a suspect. The second lawyer is required because the lawyer handling the trial may blow credibility with the jury after a finding of guilt, so a second attorney would represent the defendant during the sentencing phase.
Mesiti faces the death penalty if convicted of the murder and a total of 44 criminal counts, mostly sexual abuse charges. Rees has charged Mesiti with sexually assaulting two other female victims. The girls were not identified but their ages were listed as eight years of age and the other who was both 16 and 17 during the alleged abuse. The seven felony charges involving his alleged actions against the girls -- between July 2006 and July 2008 -- include unlawful sexual intercourse, committing lewd acts on a child, and furnishing illegal narcotics to a minor.
Mesiti moved from Ceres about six months after Alycia was reported missing; but three days after the body was unearthed police traced him to a Los Angeles apartment which had been used as a methamphetamine lab. Mesiti's girlfriend, Shelly Welborn Walker helped testify against Mesiti in the drug trial in which he was convicted on March 18, 2011 and sentenced to five years. He was turned over to Stanislaus County for the murder prosecution in June 2011.
Authorities say Mesiti drugged Alycia from July 2005 through May 2006 so that he could commit lewd and sexual acts with her.
Alycia had been reported missing two days after her alleged Aug. 13, 2006 disappearance. Mark Mesiti told police that Alycia traveled to the San Jose area on August 11, 2006, to spend the weekend with a friend and that she telephoned on August 13, reporting that she had instead gone camping with other friends but would not disclose her location nor who she was with. Police say Mr. Mesiti claimed to receive periodic calls from Alycia who assured her things were okay.
Mesiti's criminal record includes domestic violence against Alycia's mother, Roberta Allen, drunk driving and bank fraud.
The girl reportedly did not get along with her mother, Roberta Allen, who has a history of mental depression and attempted suicide. Court officials expressed concerns about Alycia's handling and turned her over to her father in November 2005 despite his criminal record.
In 2005 Mark Mesiti moved from the Bay area to Alexis Avenue, a neighborhood west of Morgan Road and just blocks from Sinclear Elementary School. Alycia had been enrolled by her father to attend Central Valley High School on Sept. 15, 2005, but never attended. On Oct. 6, 2005 CUSD received a request for her records to be sent to Harbor High School in Santa Cruz.
Roberta Allen told Ceres police that she did not believe her daughter ran away and suspected foul play. That's when police stepped up their investigation of the property and brought in a cadaver-detecting canine. The body was found wrapped in heavy black plastic and bound with duct tape near the patio buried under feet of dirt.
Mesiti is scheduled to be back in court on July 25.