By Emma Kantor, Sofia Leguria, and Stacie Guevara
WOODLAND, CA –Theo Mitchell Ray Kelso and Isaiah Montrey Berkley had an appearance in Yolo County Superior Court Department Friday, facing charges that include assault, attempted second-degree robbery and attempted murder with a firearm.
It’s been about four years that the suspects—and alleged victims—have been awaiting trial, and they’ll be waiting even longer because of the COVID epidemic.
As a result of the recent rise in positive COVID cases in Yolo County, there has been a struggle to get a jury said the court, which moved the trial to March.
Due to positive test results, exposure and contact tracing, it was noted in court that 87 percent of jurors have been unable to attend in Yolo. And now this trial is being pushed out, and the jury trial scheduled for Jan. 24 will have to be vacated due to the COVID situation.
Judge David Rosenberg said “COVID has knocked the stuffing out of the court system” as the seemingly long-lasting implications of COVID-19 have begun to infringe on the ability to uphold the victim’s right to a speedy trial.
This is a four-year-old case with two alleged victims who were threatened with firearms, and one who was allegedly shot at by the suspects.
The prosecutor, David Wilson, pushed this case to go to trial as soon as possible, noting, “I will make this a priority…victims have a right to a speedy trial, they have been waiting four years.”
Wilson moved to have attorney J.P. Brennan relieved from this case because of his unavailability. Brennan and Benjamin Williams were the defense attorneys at the Friday hearing.
It was difficult for Brennan to connect to the trial’s Zoom meeting and he said he has recently been assigned to many cases. However, he is also now on retainer for suspect Kelso.
Ultimately, the court noted, the upswing in COVID cases in the county will delay the trial anyway, so Brennan’s availability is not the only issue.
Judge Rosenberg acknowledged that Brennan is a busy man, and took into account his agreement to represent Kelso. “Mr. Brennan has done nothing wrong, except being busy,” Judge Rosenberg said.
Through all of the negotiation and discussion, Judge Rosenberg said if he were to relieve Brennan because of his unavailability and appoint new counsel, “the earliest it would be reasonable to schedule this for trial would be something like March 21.”
The lawyers agreed to continue the trial, assuming nothing else would delay it, after their current hearing was already delayed in November and again on Friday.
It was even suggested that a date in mid-April would be more comfortable for one of the defendants.
“I take seriously the fact that a defendant has chosen to retain an attorney, and it’s sort of a last resort, in my mind, to relieve the attorney,” Judge Rosenberg said.
“What’s really interfered as an overlay on everything is COVID,” Judge Rosenberg said. He added he would not relieve Brennan.
Judge Rosenberg set a jury trial March 21 at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 14, and a trial readiness conference Feb. 28 at 9 a.m. Judge Rosenberg said this would occur a month before the trial “so we have no surprises.”
Judge Rosenberg set a motion date on Feb. 2 at 9 a.m. and this is when prosecutors demanded their right to a speedy trial, but this brings into question whether they are able to get a speedy trial or a lengthy trial, along with COVID concerns, the court noted.
Judge Rosenberg said he was not able to move the date out to March without a new time waiver or good cause, so he said, “I think based on the COVID situation, I’m going to make a good cause finding.”
He said when they come back on Feb. 2, they will readdress the time waiver status while the good cause finding will be readdressed on March 21.