The Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge presiding over the case of the murder of a UCSB graduate student ruled Friday that he would not place a gag order on the case “unless things get out of hand.”
Judge Frank Ochoa, the fifth arbiter to sit on the bench in the case regarding chemistry graduate student Jarrod Davidson’s death in July 2004, denied the prosecution’s request to prevent anyone involved in the case from talking to the media. Ochoa said he feels that the attorneys for both sides are aware of what they are allowed to discuss outside of court, and he said he would only take action if someone blatantly violates those rules.
Also at Friday’s hearing, Ochoa approved a motion to allow co-defendant Philip Jones, 50, to miss future court proceedings due to serious illness. Philip Jones, his wife MaLinda Jones and their daughter Kelee Davidson – Jarrod Davidson’s ex-wife – have all pleaded not guilty to felony charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and are being held without bail at the Santa Barbara County Jail.
Public Defender James Egar, who is representing Philip Jones in the case, said his client had been feeling ill at the time of his arrest in January and was later diagnosed with an aggressive and inoperable form of lung cancer.
“It’s a very deleterious condition,” Egar said. “He shouldn’t be transported to court.”
As of Friday’s hearing, Egar said, Philip Jones had just undergone the 11th in a series of 45 daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments, which he said leave his client weak and in a great deal of pain. After it was decided that Philip Jones could waive his future court appearances, he was allowed to leave the hearing, and he departed the courtroom under armed guard while wheeling a small bottle of oxygen to assist with his breathing.
Egar said forcing his client to attend court proceedings would have been equivalent to cruel and unusual punishment, and he said he feels that Ochoa’s decision was crucial to Philip Jones’ state of health.
“It was the most important issue in court today, from our perspective,” Egar said. “It is critical to his survival to get these chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I’m very glad Judge Ochoa decided to grant the request.”
Ochoa elected to postpone several other issues – including a motion to seal the transcript of the grand jury indictment that led to Kelee Davidson’s arrest – until the upcoming hearing on May 13 because, as of Friday, only the prosecution had seen the indictment transcript.
This also prompted Ochoa to postpone the bail hearings for Kelee Davidson and MaLinda Jones, since he said it was necessary to review the contents of the indictment before determining whether they are eligible for bail.
When pressured by defense attorneys to grant the bail request on Friday, Ochoa said the nature of the charges against the defendants inclined him to reject the request at that time.
“If you want me to rule on it now, I’ll deny,” Ochoa said.