PHOENIX — Defense attorneys in a capital case have asked a judge to hold an evidentiary hearing to find out whether Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel signed off on seeking the death penalty in the case.
The motion means Adel’s personal battle with alcoholism is now officially a legal issue for the county.
“Because there is a reasonable basis to conclude that Ms. Adel did not make the final decision to seek death in this case, the (Notice of Intent) that was filed is without legal authority and must be stricken,” wrote attorneys Marci Kratter and Al Morrison on behalf of defendant Maribel Loera.
The attorneys allege that state law requires elected county attorneys to make the final decision on whether or not to seek death, according to the motion.
But Adel’s struggles with sobriety and her leave to enter out-of-state treatment have been a significant issue for the county attorney’s office in recent months.
Last week, five of her top executives asked her to resign in a letter, which cited repeated absences and a loss of trust that she is able to run the office.
The MCAO executives’ letter stated she was gone for much of December and January.
It’s because of those alleged absences and Adel’s lack of knowledge in other significant cases that form the basis of the defense attorney’s motion.
Prosecutors filed their notice of intent to seek the death penalty in the Loera case on January 25, 2022.
A key example cited in the motion is tied directly to ABC15’s “Politically Charged” investigation, which exposed Phoenix police and county prosecutors colluding to invent a gang and then falsely charge protesters as members.
After our investigation broke, Adel repeatedly denied she had knowledge of the plan despite case prosecutors claims that she signed off.
“The fictional gang case further exacerbates Ms. Loera’s concerns and demonstrates that the County Attorney has become unmoored from her ethical obligations leaving MCAO line attorneys lost-at-sea and left to their own devices,” according to the motion.
The filing also raises concerns about one of the lead prosecutors in the Loera case, Erin Otis, who was also the subject of ABC15’s recent “(dis)Honorable” investigation.
Otis left the bench while under judicial investigation for allowing her staff to repeatedly mock and ridicule people with cruel jokes and memes during hearings and trials.
MCAO hired Otis in early 2020.
The motion focuses heavily on MCAO’s alleged failure to turn over evidence proving that Adel played a role in the decision to seek death in the case.
“Nearly three weeks have passed since Counsel’s first requested communications proving that Ms. Adel was the person who authorized the filing of the (Notice of Intent),” the motion states. “Counsel's request was simple, and it should not take MCAO weeks to comply with this basic request.”
In a return letter to her top staffers, Adel blasted them for continuing to make her sobriety a public issue.
“I need you to focus on your work and your employees and stop trying to dictate and second-guess the way I choose to manage this office and the decisions I make,” Adel wrote.
On Thursday, in response to ABC15's questions about the motion, MCAO released the following redacted email as evidence that Adel signed off on the decision to seek the death penalty.
Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org.