The trial of the man accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 13-year-old Christina Williams has been put off until next March, after prosecutors revealed in court they had failed to turn over tens of thousands of pages of discovery to defense attorneys.
The trial of Charles Holifield, who faces the death penalty if convicted in the 1998 killing of Williams, was due to start in early October. After a lengthy hearing on Aug. 29, which included a motion by defense attorneys to remove the death penalty on the grounds it violates Holifield's Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, prosecutors revealed the issue of the missing documents.
"I'm trying to understand the issue," Monterey County Superior Court Judge Pamela Butler told Deputy District Attorney Lindsey O'Shea at a hearing on the morning of Sept. 3.
O'Shea told Butler that on Aug. 20, her office received an email from defense attorneys Jeremy Dzubay and Michael Belter indicating they were missing documents filed under what's known as the Bates system—a numerical method for keeping track of vast amounts of documents for legal, medical and business purposes. O'Shea said the defense attorneys told her they were missing documents between the numbers of 36,378 and 96,378.
Of those 60,000 pages, there was some overlap with what defense attorneys already had, but 20,000 of those pages are completely new, she said.
There was no explanation on how the error occurred.
O'Shea also dropped a bombshell, telling the judge that this morning, Sept. 3, the FBI sent prosecutors an email indicating they had electronic discovery that hadn't been turned over to prosecutors.
"They said they would be sending us another CD [including] electronic attachments of substance," O'Shea said, adding her office was trying to contact the FBI agent to figure out what those attachments entail.
"So he just out-of-the-blue contacted you?" Butler asked.
"I didn't reach out to the FBI. We had checked previously that we had all their documents and we had received an affirmative answer," O'Shea replied. "We're trying to figure out exactly what happened there."
Dzubay told Butler that after conferring with prosecutors last Friday and again Tuesday morning, they had agreed both sides would need more time to reorganize discovery. Butler reset the trial to March 2.
Between now and then, the judge said, "We're going to meet sporadically on this case." A hearing will take place on Oct. 17 so attorneys can argue whether Holifield was denied his right to counsel when investigators interviewed him in prison in 2017.
"I want to know what the FBI has in terms of substance," Butler told the attorneys. She also told both sides: "We should try to keep resolving the case if we're able to, short of death, and I'm not saying we'll be able to."
Christina Williams was born in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, the daughter of a Navy meteorologist whose job brought his family to the Monterey Peninsula. The Fitch Middle School student disappeared on June 12, 1998 while walking the family's dog on Fort Ord. Her remains were found seven months later near Imjin Road, less than two miles from her home, where a memorial has been kept going ever since. She was identified via dental records.
In 2016, a criminologist with the California Department of Justice re-examined evidence, including Williams' clothing, for potential DNA. A sample matched to Holifield.
The 58-year-old Holifield is serving 25-years-to-life in prison for a separate crime of kidnapping and making criminal threats against a woman in 1998. He was previously convicted of raping two teenage girls and is the suspect in a third assault, between 1979 and 1983. He was also convicted of assault with intent to commit rape in 1980.
In April, Butler issued a gag order in the case that limits what attorneys and law enforcement officials can discuss about the case.