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Mon, Dec. 09

Motion to change judges in murder case filed

A motion to disqualify a Mohave County Superior Court judge has added another wrinkle to the case of a Kingman man charged with killing an infant 13 years ago.

The attorneys for John Lee DeBarge Sr., who is charged with first-degree murder and child abuse, on Friday filed a motion that Judge Steven Conn be disqualified.

As a result, Conn vacated an omnibus hearing in DeBarge's case Monday and referred the motion to presiding Judge Robert Moon.

"A newly discovered disclosure indicates the fact that another judge would be more suitable to hear this case," Mohave County Public Defender Dana Hlavac said.

"Added medical records raise an issue, which can create a possible conflict."

Hlavac's motion states that additional facts indicate the infant suffered injuries before the alleged abuse by DeBarge.

An additional witness is believed to have provided child-care services to the victim prior to the infant's death, and that witness is related to an employee in Conn's court, the motion states.

It also states that Conn once worked at the Mohave County Attorney's Office, that he was a co-worker of Chief Deputy Mohave County Attorney Jace Zack, who is the prosecutor in the case, that Conn admitted knowing the infant's family and that the infant's grandfather serves as the Mohave County Sheriff's Office court transport deputy in Conn's court.

Hlavac also said that there is the possibility the case may be moved to another county.

Also scheduled for Monday's hearing was a motion filed last week by Hlavac and co-counsel Phoenix attorney Randy Papetti to disqualify the Mohave County Attorney's Office from the case.

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

The motion claims the close relationship that the county attorney's office has with Sarah's House could taint prosecution's neutrality and influence the state's handling of the case.

Conn declined to rule on that motion because of the motion seeking to disqualify him.

DeBarge was tried, convicted and sentenced in July 1991 to life in prison by a Mohave County jury for the death of a 10-month-old girl in September 1990.

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

DeBarge, who was held on a $50,000 bond and is now living in Phoenix, is not in custody.

An U.S.

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

In April 2002, the 9th U.S.

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

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

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

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

DeBarge was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for 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 overturned because his attorney failed to research the subject of the infant injuries, did not provide medical experts on his client's behalf and did not cross-examine the state's medical witnesses, records show.

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