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D.A. appealing judge's ruling in local death penalty case

January 30, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A judge's ruling in a Calipatria State Prison death penalty case has led the District Attorney's Office to seek relief from the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego.

That ruling and the effort by the DA's Office to challenge it has led to a week's delay in the case.

Opening statements, which were to occur this week, have been delayed until Feb. 6 and there could be further delays depending on the action by the appellate court.

The case involves the April 13, 1998, murder of Abe Mendibles, a Calipatria State Prison inmate who was stabbed to death.

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Inmate Louis Gomez, 24, is facing a first-degree murder charge, and, if found guilty of first-degree murder with at least one of two special circumstances added, he could face the death penalty. Information on the special circumstances has not been released to the public or the jury.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge James Harmon ruled that one count be severed from a murder count Gomez is facing in relation to the case.

Just as in the case of the two special circumstances, information about the second count has not been released to the jury. Severing that count means it would have to be dealt with in a separate trial, depending on the jury's action on the murder count.

Deputy District Attorney Karla Davis today was preparing a writ to present to the appellate court in San Diego. The writ is similar to an appeal in that it would ask the appellate court for relief from Harmon's ruling.

The delay comes after a five-month process to select a jury for the case and after the case was initially delayed until mid-February.

Last week Gomez's defense team, which had requested the case be delayed, sought a new motion to have the case move forward immediately.

Harmon approved that motion and scheduled the opening statements to start this week.

Harmon then granted the delay to give the DA's Office time to file its writ with the appellate court.

According to the DA's office, Gomez — then 20 — stabbed Mendibles, who was in his 40s, 14 times. Gomez has remained in administrative segregation at the state prison since then.

Gomez's attorneys have argued their client stabbed Mendibles in self-defense, stating Mendibles made threats against Gomez's life.

Because of the nature of the case, few details have been released on Gomez's history. He is in Calipatria State Prison for a crime that has not been disclosed.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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