Mark Edward Mesiti, the man accused of drugging his Ceres daughter to sexually violate her and ultimately kill her in 2006, was unable to motion Thursday morning to withdraw guilty pleas he entered last month and ask for a new trial.
A Stanislaus County Superior Court judge turned down Mesiti's request for a new court-appointed attorney and ordered Mesiti's scheduled sentencing on Nov. 28 to take place. However, attorney Steven O'Connor has been retained by Mesiti to file a motion to withdraw his prior admissions of guilt.
Mesiti's trial was only weeks old on Oct. 17 when he stunned the court by admitting he drugged, sexually assaulted and killed his daughter, Alycia Mesiti in 2006. During a 45-minute process, Mesiti, 49, entered a total of 49 guilty pleas in a bargain with prosecutors to drop the death penalty. The arrangement makes Mesiti eligible for life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bargain included a requirement that Mesiti publicly read an allocution statement listing in explicit detail the sexual abuse he inflicted on his daughter in Ceres and the two girls in Los Angeles.
But on Friday, Oct. 28 Mesiti indicated that he wants to withdraw his guilty pleas and was back in court on Thursday, appearing in a red and white jail jumpsuit.
Stanislaus County prosecutors say Mesiti's computers contain images of his daughter being sexually assaulted by him while she was unconscious after being drugged with anti-depressants, benzodiazepines, morphine and methadone. They say he committed rape, sodomy, oral copulation, digital penetration and child molestation of his daughter multiple times on several different occasions.
Videos also showed the defendant setting up a hidden camera in the bedroom of an 8-year-old girl who lived in the apartment he shared with his girlfriend at the time. Other videos and images showed a 16-year-old female who Mesiti had befriended being sexually assaulted.
During a Thursday hearing that lasted about a half-hour, Judge Dawna Frenchie Reeves grew irritated at the interruptions of attorney Steven O'Connor, who Mesiti wants to represent him. She also took O'Connor to task for the way he submitted a sealed letter without a case number, no proof of service and without having filed it the proper way. Reeves called his methods "unusual ... and it caused the court a little bit of distress." The letter indicated that Mesiti has retained him to represent him in motioning for the guilty plea withdrawal.
Judge Reeves said because she assumed Mesiti was unsatisfied with his attorney, Martin Baker, a Marsden hearing needed to take place before she could appoint new counsel.
"Mr. Mesiti interrupted his jury trial with an offer to settle and then did settle this case at his request," said Judge Reeves. "That's the state of the evidence before the court right now."
Several times O'Connor talked over Baker, prompting Judge Reeves to say the problem was that two attorneys were "wanting to represent Mr. Mesiti and only one of them ... is assigned as the attorney for all purposes." She said if O'Connor was to be allowed to motion for the withdrawal of the guilty pleas, "you have to allow the counsel (Baker) speak ... but I can't have a hearing with you interrupting."
Baker told the judge that if Mesiti has a right to retain whom he wants and if he wants to switch attorneys, he would "more than happy" to turn over the entire file.
"His attorney of record would have a right to make that motion," said Baker. "As long as I remain the attorney of record my recommendation is not to make that motion."
Reeves directly asked Mesiti if he wished to relieve Baker in favor of a new court appointed attorney to which O'Connor interrupted again. Baker replied: "As counsel right now I object to other attorneys who are not going to interrupt me." Reeves asked Mesiti again, which prompted a short huddle between him and O'Connor. Mesiti then answered replied that, yes, he wanted a new attorney.
Reeves then announced that she would hold a Marsden hearing, with O'Connor suggesting that he wasn't prepared. Reeves replied, "I'm going to have it right now," and ordered those in the galley to leave the room.
A Marsden motion is the legal means by which a defendant can fire a court-appointed attorney or communicate directly with a judge based on a defendant's claim that the attorney is incompetent or providing ineffective assistance.
After a brief closed door conference, Judge Reeves announced that Mesiti's sentencing date would continue as scheduled.
"The Marsden had been denied - there's no evidence that has been presented," said Judge Reeves.
O'Connor asked the judge about a future date to discuss the matter, to which she replied, "I heard the Marsden today and I have a sentencing date, that's our next date, on the 28th." She did not rule out O'Connor filing a motion but said Baker was not relieved from the case and that she "admonished Mr. Baker to continue to prepare for the sentencing on November 28."
O'Connor again protested, charging that Baker took only six weeks to defend a death penalty case, to which Judge Reeves snapped: "We're not going to discuss that today, Mr. O'Connor, because we have a sentencing date and there's been no good cause to continue that date. If you've been hired for a particular purpose I'm not going to tell you that you can't perform that purpose but other than that I think we're done here today."
She told O'Connor he can file a motion.
"But again, your honor, the issue as I see it - how can the counsel adequately litigate his own alleged incompetence?" O'Connor said. "He can't."
Judge Reeves told O'Connor to read the People v. Sanchez ruling. She also told him to address issues in any motion.
With that, Mesiti was shackled and led out of the court room.
"I just want it over with, so we can rebuild our lives," said Alycia's maternal great-aunt, Roberta Fitzpatrick of San Jose, who suggested that Mesiti - who she called"a snake in the grass" and an evil man - was only trying to delay justice. "It's been a really long haul. It's been very hard."
Fitzpatrick said that Courier accounts that Alycia's mother did not get along well with her daughter were incorrect. She said a family court judge in San Jose, "without any evidence," declared Roberta Allen unfit to care for her daughter in November 2005 because of depression and awarded custody to Mark Mesiti, who had a prior domestic violence, drunken driving and federal bank fraud charges.
"She had been essentially terrorized by Mark Mesiti for years and he blindsided her and took away her kids," claimed Fitzpatrick, who termed family court "a real cesspool." "He had an attorney and she didn't. She had a good relationship with the kids. She was the only one who supported them all those years."
Fitzpatrick said in 2004 Alycia was sent to the care of her grandmother in Maine because "Roberta was afraid Mark was going to hurt them and he had hurt her."
After the 2004-05 school year ended in Maine, Alycia returned to California that July. A little over a year later Alycia was dead.
"Mark had been working behind the scenes and had an emergency order to have custody - no proof or anything - and she had been fighting ever since. He's a snake in the grass. He's evil. All I know is he's probably always been like this as far as I know.