BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The case of two men charged with murder in the shooting death of a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation counselor remains on hold as an appellate court decides whether a journalist who interviewed one of the suspects must turn over her notes.
On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Eric Bradshaw set a status conference in January after defense counsel said the hold placed on the case earlier this year by the 5th District Court of Appeal could last another three months.
Robert Pernell Roberts, 30, and Sebastian Parra, 23, are charged with first-degree murder and attempted robbery in the death of Benny Alcala Jr., who was shot the night of Aug. 24, 2022, near the Target on Stockdale Highway Alcala, 43, died at the scene.
Initially, only Roberts was charged. Parra served as the prosecution’s key witness during Roberts’ preliminary hearing, where he testified Roberts targeted Alcala because he believed the counselor had money because he was charging an electric vehicle. Parra said he had nothing to do with the killing and met Roberts that night.
In March, Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe, who represented Roberts, served The Bakersfield Californian subpoenas seeking notes from reporter Ishani Desai after she interviewed Parra in jail. Blythe argued the information was “necessary and material” to Roberts’ defense.
Thomas Burke, the paper’s attorney, has said the notes are protected from disclosure by the First Amendment and the state’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from being compelled to disclose confidential sources or unpublished material.
A Kern County judge ruled in favor of Blythe, but the newspaper appealed and attorneys presented arguments Oct. 25 before the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno. The matter is under submission.
Deputy Public Defender Gordon Lake recently took over the case from Blythe, who has been hired by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
“The Kern County Public Defender’s Office is a great place to work, and I am honored to be a part of this organization,” Blythe said in an email. “(Public Defender) Peter Kang is an amazing leader. I have so much respect and admiration for how he runs this office.”
She continued, “I have learned so much from Mr. Kang and my other colleagues here at the Public Defender’s Office. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to work here. It is never easy leaving a job, especially a job I love, but I am excited for the next chapter.”