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9:19 AM Sun, Nov. 18th

Attorneys for accused Kingman murderer seeks to disqualify prosecutors

The attorneys for a Kingman man, charged with killing an infant 13 years ago, filed a motion Wednesday to disqualify the Mohave County Attorney's Office from prosecuting the case.

John Lee DeBarge Sr.

faces the same charges of felony first-degree murder and one count of child abuse that he did in his first trial in July 1991.

DeBarge was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison by a Mohave County jury for the killing a 10-month-old girl in September 1990.

Sarah's House, the victim witness program, which is a division of the Mohave County Attorney's Office, was named after the girl.

Last year, a federal appellate court upheld a lower court's ruling to overturn DeBarge's murder conviction.

The Mohave County Public Defender Office and co-counsel Phoenix attorney Randy Papetti, filed a motion to disqualify the Mohave County Attorney's Office from the case.

Mohave County Public Defender Dana Hlavac said the close relationship between the county attorney's office and Sarah's House could taint the prosecutor's neutrality and influence the state's handling of the case.

"It's the appearance that the justice system is doing something other than seek justice," Hlavac said.

In addition, more modern medical research that has developed since the first trial could benefit the defense's case, the motion states.

Judge Steven Conn has several options.

He could deny the motion or he could assign a special prosecutor to handle the case for the state, Hlavac said.

In another recent case, the Yavapai County Attorney's Office is handling a Mohave County drug case instead of the local county attorney's office.

In rare cases, a private attorney could be assigned to handle prosecution, Hlavac said.

DeBarge's omnibus hearing is set for Monday.

An omnibus hearing sets the date of the trial.

Conn could rule on the motion by then.

An U.S.

District Court judge from Alaska overturned DeBarge's conviction in the infant's death citing ineffective defense counsel.

After the ruling, DeBarge was released from custody in Phoenix.

In April 2002, the 9th U.S.

Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the District Court judge's ruling.

DeBarge, who was held on a $50,000 bond, is currently not in custody.

In DeBarge's first trial, the state's argument was that the infant died from extensive skull fractures while in DeBarge's care.

The defense attorney for DeBarge argued that the infant fell from a highchair.

Medicals experts testified for the state that the death was not accidental and that the injuries were not caused by a fall from the highchair.

The jury found DeBarge guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 35 years for the murder conviction and a concurrent sentence of 22 years in prison for the child abuse charge, records show.

DeBarge's murder conviction was overturn because his attorney failed to research the subject of the infant injuries, did not provide medical experts on his client's behalf, nor did he cross examine the state's medical witnesses, records show.