April 05, 2012

Teen charged in fatal Meiners Oaks stabbing to have competency hearing

A judge ruled a 17-year-old boy who is accused of killing another teen will have a hearing to determine whether he is competent to stand trial in the first-degree murder case.

Lawyers for Alex Medina, of Miramonte, have argued in court that the district attorney withheld evidence favorable to him. They say a third party, identified in court as "Witness X" by defendants, told prosecutors someone else killed 16-year-old Seth Scarminach of Ojai in 2009.

Prosecutor Bill Haney, who has denied these allegations, appeared in court with Richard S. Moskowitz, a deputy attorney general in Los Angeles. The Attorney General's Office routinely assigns a lawyer when a recusal motion is filed against the District Attorney's Office to handle the criminal case until the recusal can be resolved.

In his ruling Monday, Ventura County Superior Court Judge James Cloninger said the competency issue must be heard before the criminal case can move forward.

The burden of proof shifts to the defendant at a competency hearing, and criminal proceedings are suspended until competency is resolved.

Medina's lawyers — Robyn Bramson and Scott Wippert — asked for a competency hearing after they raised doubt in court on whether Medina is competent to help them in his legal defense.

Haney said in an interview that Medina is facing 36 years to life in prison if he is convicted of the stabbing and other felony counts.

Cloninger said he will set a date for the competency trial Friday. He took the defense's recusal motion and the motion to dismiss off the calendar until after the competency hearing.

Cloninger's decision came despite arguments by Bramson, who cited case law she thought applied in this case. Bramson wants the district attorney removed from the competency hearing, arguing the district attorney has violated Medina's constitutional rights by not giving him crucial evidence.

"He has a due process right to have this case prosecuted in a fair and constitutional manner," Bramson told the judge.

Haney has argued in court that the allegations are "untrue and preposterous."

Moskowitz told Cloninger the recusal motion is premature because prosecutors have until at least 30 days before trial to release discovery information to defense lawyers.

Bramson countered that this isn't a legal-procedure question of the turning over of discovery documents by prosecutors but a constitutional matter in which Medina has a constitutional right to so-called Brady material.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brady v. Maryland that suppression of evidence by prosecutors that is favorable to a defendant must be disclosed to him or his attorneys. Disclosing this evidence could result in finding a person not guilty of a crime or help a defendant's lawyer or a defendant's constitutional right to due process, the court ruled.

Medina is accused of killing Scarminach at a weekend party in Meiners Oaks. Scarminach was stabbed in the driveway of a residence in the 2400 block of Maricopa Highway shortly before 2 a.m. on April 16, 2009.

By Raul Hernandez - Ventura County Star
Posted April 2, 2012 at 6:26 p.m.



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