Nearly 10 years after Mark Duenas of Cottonwood was convicted of murdering his wife, his lawyer is asking a judge for a new trial, claiming his previous attorney did not competently defend him.
Specifically, Duenas' request for a new trial in a writ of habeus corpus says his former attorney did not have blood experts and an audiologist testify during the second of his two murder trials.
Duenas' attorney, Matthew Izzi of Redding, said blood testimony and 911 recordings were two important parts of the case that prosecutors used to convict his client.
And Duenas' trial attorney did not hire consultants to properly challenge testimony presented by the Shasta County District Attorney's Office.
"This attorney had every resource available to him, should have had an idea that this was going to be a bigger and more heated issue and he just didn't do anything about it," Izzi said of the blood evidence testimony.
Duenas has already been through two criminal trials over his wife's death. The first trial ended in a hung jury that was unable to reach a verdict. But he was convicted in a second trial and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Emily Mees, a senior deputy in the District Attorney's Office, disagreed with Izzi's characterization of Duenas' defense.
"Our general position is that the defense attorney did properly handle those issues and that even if they would have brought in an audiologist and a blood expert, the result at the trial would not be a different result," Mees said.
Duenas was arrested five months after his wife was found stabbed in the couple's Cottonwood home on the morning of May 5, 2012. She had suffered two stab wounds to her back and a fatal wound to her chest that severed her aorta and windpipe.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Duenas stabbed his wife because he was unhappy with his marriage and he had carried on a long-distance phone and text-message relationship with an old flame.
The defense's contention was that Karen Duenas was murdered by an unknown intruder into their home.
More: Mark Duenas' Cottonwood murder case is becoming a true-crime fan favorite
Duenas appealed his conviction on some of the issues Izzi is bringing up. The California 3rd District Court of Appeal rejected that appeal in 2018.
Mees said the appeals court looked at whether legal issues in the trial were properly handled, while the habeus corpus considers whether the jury was able to consider all the facts in the case.
The writ was originally filed in 2017. A Shasta County Superior Court judge held a hearing on the case in June of this year. Izzi and Mees have been submitting their final written arguments and counter arguments.
The judge is expected to make a written decision on whether to have a new trial in the case in late September or early October, Mees said.
The habeus petition says a prosecution team conducted experiments it hoped would show Duenas washed blood from his clothes and attempted to rehydrate dried blood on his wife's face as evidence that Duenas killed her and then waited a period of time before calling 911.
"The prosecution's retrial against petitioner (Duenas) relied heavily on testimony related to forensic blood analysis, coupled with novel, unscientific experiments to support a theory that petitioner committed a murder and then waited some period of time to call law enforcement; arbitrary and manufactured tests of washing blood and bloodstains, and 'rehydrating' of drying or skeletonized blood was presented to the jury with the goal of concocting what forensic science could not establish in this case: time of death," Izzi wrote in his court papers.
More: Mark Duenas 911 calls
Mees said a qualified criminalist from the state Department of Justice testified about the blood evidence. The trial attorney also extensively cross-examined other witnesses about blood at the scene, and the jury still voted to convict Duenas, Mees said.
Duenas' 911 call telling dispatchers that he had found his wife dead and bleeding, was another key piece of evidence used at trial, according to Izzi. The recording of the 911 call used at trial sounded as if Duenas admitted to killing her: "I got ah, I killed my wife; s--t, I'm, blood everywhere.'"
But Izzi said the audio of the 911 call was unclear. He said that removing background noise shows Duenas said, "I found my wife sick. I mean blood everywhere."
"It's fairly clear from the audio that he doesn't say 'I killed my wife.' I mean, reasonable minds can differ. But it sounds very clear in the audio that he didn't say 'I killed my wife,'" Izzi said.
"The likelihood this would have bolstered the defense's theory that the law enforcement investigation was hurried, rushed, incomplete, inaccurate and narrow-mindedly focused on petitioner is high and lends a strong likelihood that a jury would have doubts as to petitioner's guilt," Izzi wrote.
Mees said Izzi's argument places too much importance on the blood testimony and 911 recording, which were just part of the overall case that was assembled to show Duenas murdered his wife.
More: Mark Duenas, the Cottonwood man convicted of killing his wife, loses appeal bid
Members of the jury in Duenas' second trial got to listen to both recordings and make up their own mind about how important they were in the case, she said.
"To me, the 911 call was not significant at all, because you couldn't really tell what was said. And then, in terms of the blood evidence that he's pointing out, there's lots of other evidence. So, I don't think that either of them were super significant. I think they were little pieces" of the entire case, Mees said.
Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight's resources and environment reporter. He is part of a team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!
This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Mark Duenas seeks new trial nine years after murder conviction