The jury trial has been postponed for murder suspect Cesar Octavio Valenzuela, the only one of five defendants who has not pleaded guilty to a fatal December 2016 carjacking near Manila.
Valenzuela was set for trial confirmation this morning for a trial scheduled to begin June 8. But with the courthouse closed and all jury trials suspended because of the Corona virus, attorneys agreed to a trial-setting date of June 17.
Valenzuela, 26, has been in custody on murder and carjacking charges since December 2016, when 20-year-old Tyson Eduardo Claros was shot dead during a carjacking on State Highway 255.
Four other defendants, including shooter Brandon James Mitchell, have admitted to varying charges. Mitchell has already begun serving a 27-year term in state prison. Tamara Nicole Thomson agreed to a 14-year deal, with Hector Godoy-Standley receiving four years.
And Catherine Suzanne Lynn Fode pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter early on — November 2017 — and agreed to testify against the others. She has not been sentenced and remains in jail waiting for Valenzuela’s trial.
Thomson and Godoy-Standley, although they were sentenced along with Mitchell, are also still in custody locally.
This morning Judge Larry Killoran granted defense attorney Casey Russo’s motion to continue. Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Schaffer agreed to the delay, noting that at this time it is not safe to hold jury trials.
Russo was in the courtroom wearing a mask, while Schaffer spoke to the judge by phone. Inmates are able to view the court proceedings from a room in the jail.
In another pending murder case, defense attorney Russ Clanton announced this morning he can no longer represent a woman accused of being an accessory to an August 2019 killing in Rio Dell.
Clanton, representing 22-year-old Alma Ahumada-Mendoza, said that while looking through evidence in the case he discovered he has a conflict of interest.
“I just cannot go forward, despite wanting to,” he told Judge Larry Killoran.
Ahumada-Mendoza is charged with aiding Demetrius Coleman while he was on the run after allegedly gunning down a man in Rio Dell. The two were traveling together when Coleman, 39, was caught and arrested in North Dakota in January. Ahumada-Mendoza got away that day but was captured the following day.
According to Rio Dell police, former Texas resident Johnny Mack Renfro was driving in Rio Dell when he pulled over to the curb and got out of his car. Video surveillance shows a person in another car firing a gun at him multiple times. Renfro was killed by a bullet to his abdomen. The Public Defender’s Office has already declared a conflict in Ahumada-Mendoza’s case. Now another attorney must be found to represent her.
She is scheduled for another court date Thursday morning.