A Ventura County judge Wednesday postponed sentencing for two convicted killers after one of the men requested that a public defender take over his case.
The sudden request by 21-year-old Robert Don Imes was granted by Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis during a short hearing.
Imes and co-defendant Vincent Ryan Gatica, 21, were scheduled to be sentenced on felony charges for the July 21, 1998, stabbing death of Robert Bankson, 24, of Moorpark.
According to trial testimony, Bankson and his friend, Joe Morgan, met Imes on their way to a post-concert party at the county fairgrounds in Ventura and offered to share a hallucinogenic mushroom stem. When Imes grabbed the stem, the pair tackled him and a fight broke out. During the brawl, Imes stabbed Bankson in the head and neck. He also stabbed Morgan.
In March, a jury found Imes guilty of second-degree murder and attempted murder with use of a knife. He is facing 34 years to life in prison.
The same jury concluded that Gatica, a longtime friend of Imes, participated in the attack. Prosecutors argued in favor of a murder conviction, saying Gatica held Bankson down while Imes wielded a pocketknife.
But the jury found Gatica guilty of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He faces up to four years in state prison, but could be released sooner after being held in county jail for the last two years.
On Wednesday, Imes' attorney did not appear in court. Gatica's lawyer, David Callahan, said he was representing both men for the purposes of the hearing and wanted their sentencing postponed.
Imes indicated that he no longer wanted Tarzana attorney Barry O. Bernstein, his private counsel, to handle his case. Curtis granted Imes' request for a public defender.
Deputy Public Defender Christina Briles, who was in Curtis' courtroom Wednesday morning on an unrelated case, accepted the appointment on behalf of her office. She later said another lawyer would be taking over Imes' case.
Briles told Curtis she anticipates her office will file a motion for a new trial and asked that a hearing be set for June 20. Curtis agreed. He then split the case into two matters, so Gatica's sentencing would not be delayed.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox opposed Callahan's request for a postponement, saying there is no reason Gatica needs more time.
"These continuances are out of control," Fox said. "Time is wasting and the families of the victims in this case need closure."
Callahan argued that there are significant issues to be resolved prior to sentencing, such as a prosecution request that Gatica lose his "good time" jail credits after allegedly participating in a fight while incarcerated.
Curtis set Gatica's sentencing for June 7.