WOODLAND — The status of accused sheriff’s deputy killer Marco Topete’s death-penalty trial remains up in the air.
Plans for opening statements last week were abandoned after one of Topete’s two defense attorneys, 83-year-old Tom Purtell, suffered a stroke on April 16.
Purtell has started physical therapy and “continues to do well,” his co-counsel, Hayes Gable III, said at a hearing Tuesday to discuss the status of the case. However, Gable remained uncertain whether Purtell would be able to resume his role in the homicide case.
Yolo Superior Court Judge Paul Richardson set another hearing for Thursday morning, at which time Gable says he’ll know whether Purtell will seek to be relieved from the case. If that happens, another attorney will be appointed to take his place.
Gable said he has been in talks with other attorneys who may be available to assist him in the trial.
Topete, 38, is accused of gunning down Sheriff’s Deputy Jose “Tony” Diaz following a June 15, 2008, vehicle pursuit in Dunnigan. Diaz died the next morning from a high-powered assault rifle round that pierced his protective vest.
Attorneys also plan to discuss Thursday the fate of the 93 potential jurors that they have spent more than five weeks qualifying to hear the case. As of now, the pool has instructions to return to court next Tuesday.
“The thought of losing the jury pool is depressing,” said Gable, who suggested the court conduct a second “hardship” round to weed out jurors who would have conflicts if the trial is delayed — a prospect that seems likely at this point.
The other option would be to start the jury-selection process all over again, which Richardson agreed would be a situation the court would rather avoid.
Thursday’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. in Richardson’s courtroom.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or (530) 747-8048. Follow her at www.twitter.com/laurenkeene