Thursday, June 19, 2008
A public hearing – in which murder suspect Marco Antonio Topete was to be formally charged Wednesday in the slaying of a Yolo County sheriff's deputy – was closed to just about everyone except the slain deputy's survivors and his law-enforcement colleagues.
Barred from the hearing were the defendant's wife, mother and sister, and members of the general public, including the media. They waited outside the court building in Woodland because deputies had locked the door and kept it locked during the hearing.
Afterward, when reporters asked the prosecutor and public defender what transpired in the hearing, they said that Superior Court Commissioner Janene Beronio, who presided, had placed a gag order on them, preventing them from discussing anything about the case.
Initially, Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto blamed the commissioner for excluding the public from the hearing. Later, Prieto said his deputies kept the doors locked on their own and that was "a huge mistake."
In Yolo County, Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg presides over the Woodland court operation.
Rosenberg told The Bee the arraignment hearing should have been open to the public and media.
"The doors are supposed to be unlocked when court is in session. This kind of hearing should have been open to the public. There are no excuses. It shouldn't have happened," Rosenberg said.
The defendant, Topete, 35, is accused of killing Sheriff's Deputy Jose Antonio Diaz after a high-speed chase Sunday night.
Diaz, 37, died at Woodland Memorial Hospital from a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle that had pierced his protective vest, authorities said. [Mark Godsey]