Attorneys for murder defendant Vincent Sanchez asked a judge Thursday to force Ventura County prosecutors to sit down for a settlement conference on whether the death penalty is appropriate in the case.
Sanchez, 32, is charged with murder and special circumstance allegations that he killed 20-year-old college student Megan Barroso of Moorpark during an attempted rape and kidnapping.
The Simi Valley handyman previously pleaded guilty to raping seven women in Simi Valley between 1996 and 2001. Prosecutors believe Sanchez intended to rape Barroso as well and are seeking the death penalty.
Defense lawyers have admitted that Sanchez killed Barroso but insist there was no rape attempt. They contend that Sanchez, intoxicated by alcohol and overcome with road rage, shot Barroso with an assault rifle while chasing her on a darkened freeway on July 5, 2001.
Sanchez, who is already facing the equivalent of a life prison sentence for the rape charges, has tried to plead guilty to murder without admitting the rape allegations. But prosecutors have refused to accept his offered plea or to engage in settlement discussions.
"The problem is, the response we get is, 'Hey, thanks very much for your input but no thanks, we are going forward,' " Chief Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn said.
Quinn recently filed a motion asking Superior Court Judge Ken Riley to intervene and order both sides to engage in settlement discussions. Quinn told Riley on Thursday that he believes there are significant benefits to the rape victims, the community and his client by resolving the case and avoiding a lengthy trial.
Quinn also said there are factors, which he did not specify, that weigh against the death penalty for Sanchez. But he said he does not trust prosecutors with the information outside a formal settlement conference facilitated by the judge.
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth objected to the defense request, calling it inappropriate, illegal and a blatant attempt to put pressure on the district attorney to not seek the death penalty.
"The district attorney is not going to accept life in prison without parole in this case, your honor," she told Riley. "There is nothing further to be said."
Riley is expected to issue a ruling in coming days. Jury selection is scheduled to begin next month. Prosecutors estimate that the trial could last up to 12 weeks.