Judge Robert LaForge blasted the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office on Friday for continued delays in deciding whether to pursue the death penalty in a triple homicide near Forestville that happened a year ago this week.
LaForge said the lack of a decision regarding Mark Cappello, 47, of Central City, Colo., who is charged with the execution-style slaying in a pot deal gone bad, forces him to proceed toward the April 4 trial as if the death penalty were still on the table.
He said that means hundreds of extra jurors will have to be summoned and special transcripts will be ordered, presumably in the event of appeal. Cappello could also receive a second lawyer, funded by taxpayers.
LaForge criticized the office for not living up to a December estimate that it would decide the matter in 30 days. He expressed frustration at the office's 10-member death penalty committee, which includes District Attorney Jill Ravitch, for its inability to meet with Cappello's lawyer.
"How is this not a priority?" LaForge asked prosecutor Traci Carrillo in open court. "It appears to me that no one can get it together to have a meeting."
Carrillo said a meeting was sought earlier this month in which defense attorney Michael Meehan was to make a presentation against the death penalty. But it did not happen because a committee member was not available. She said she would return to managers and make clear the need to decide the matter.
"I'm just a cog in the wheel, trying to push it forward," Carrillo told LaForge.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook said the office was "fully engaged in coming to a just determination."
She said the process includes consulting the victims' families, additional investigation and holding a meeting with Cappello's lawyer, now set for March 3.
But Cook said she could not commit to a date by which the decision would be made. Cook said Carrillo mispoke in suggesting a decision would be reached in 30 days.
"This is obviously a very serious and significant determination that requires due diligence," Cook said.
Outside court, Cappello's lawyer expressed frustration at the delay. He said the decision will affect his approach at trial, which is now less than two months away.
Also, he complained prosecutors have not turned over ballistics and other key evidence he is entitled to.
"I think it's ridiculous for them to hold us hostage while the state decides if it wants to murder my client," Meehan said.
Meanwhile, LaForge made clear the trial would start April 4 and he expected both sides to be ready.
"This is not an artificial jury trial date where I'm going to wait around and see what happens," he said.
Cappello is one of three defendants charged in the Feb. 5, 2013 slayings at a house off Ross Station Road. Prosecutors allege he and Odin Dwyer, 39, also of Colorado and Dwyer's father, Francis Dwyer, 66 of New Mexico, traveled to Sonoma County to help transport about 70 pounds of marijuana to the East Coast.
But when Cappello and the younger Dwyer met with their three would-be business partners to complete the deal, Cappello murdered the men instead, prosecutors allege.
Killed were Todd Klarkowski, 43, of Boulder, Colo.; Richard Lewin, 46, of Huntington, N.Y.; and Raleigh Butler, 24, formerly of Sebastopol.