Alleged Days Inn killer can't find attorney
Justin Bergo, the man accused of stabbing and cutting his own mother to death inside a Sutter Creek hotel, appeared in superior court last week to announce that he was unable to find adequate defense. The declaration forced Judge David Richmond to make the court intervene.
The complications around Bergo's defense are directly tied to the brutal nature of his alleged crime. Prosecutors say that Bergo lured his mother, 62-year-old Dolores Bergo, away from San Jose on a road trip to the Days Inn, in Sutter Creek, in March, when he allegedly murdered her with a knife before fleeing the United States to Mexico.
Bergo was captured in Tijuana by the U.S. Marshals' Fugitive Task Force on March 22 and brought back to Amador County to stand trial. Two days later, the 33-year-old was arraigned in Amador Superior Court on a first-degree murder charge, with a special circumstance of murder by lying in wait, as well as a special allegation of murder with a deadly weapon.
Bergo was initially advised of his rights by the Amador County's Public Defender's Office, but was also told that the special circumstance attached to his charges make his alleged crime a potential death penalty case. The Amador County Public Defender's Office is contracted through the law offices of Richard Ciummo and Associates. The firm is not obligated to handle death penalty cases. Bergo was advised that he needed to find a different attorney before his case could move forward.
During his March 24 arraignment, Bergo claimed that he could afford his own attorney. Richmond gave him more than six weeks to search for the right lawyer to head up his defense.
On May 19, Bergo - wearing a loose, dark-red jumpsuit - was again led into court in chains. He updated Richmond on his situation.
"Mr. Bergo, have you managed to retain an attorney?" Richmond asked.
"No," Bergo answered in a low voice.
Richmond then turned to Deputy District Attorney, Steve Hermanson. "There's a conundrum, Mr. Hermanson," the judge acknowledged. "Ciummo & Associates' contract precludes them from handling the case. And I don't know of anyone here, other than the court, who has special circumstances experience. I think I'll have to start looking for some attorneys who can take the case."
Hermanson agreed. "It's my understanding that the court will need to certify that attorney," Hermanson observed. "It might be best to do that up front in the case, once the lawyer is here."
Richmond felt the same way. Bringing his attention back to Bergo, the judge explained, "Mr. Bergo, the court needs to find someone specially qualified to represent you, so you can be properly defended."
Bergo's next court appearance is in mid-June.