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Preliminary hearing setting conference rescheduled again in murder case

Ruth Ellis
Staff Writer

After the defense team cited scheduling conflicts and new information regarding the case, a preliminary hearing setting conference has been rescheduled, again, for a man and woman charged with killing an off-duty Susanville police officer. 

Joanna Lynne McElrath, 36, and Robin Glen James, 46, appeared in Lassen Superior Court Wednesday, March 9, for their second preliminary hearing setting conference. They are being held in custody without bail for the alleged murder of Robert McElrath, Joanna's husband.

Bud Landreth, of Salinas County, and Laureen Bethards, who are representing Joanna McElrath, asked the matter be continued to Wednesday, July 6.

Bethards said the defense team had received an extensive amount of new information, at least 30 gigabytes, that morning and it needed to be processed by the defense team. The team had no way of knowing what additional information would be forthcoming. She said she would also be out of the country in June.

Landreth said he had a capital trial case in Monterey County set for April 4. At the time he accepted McElrath's case, Landreth said the date for the capital trial was uncertain.

Larry Barnes, representing James, said he would join with counsels' request and that there was "no choice but to put (the case) on for July."

Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns said he was not surprised with what the defense said and it would be "disingenuous" of him not to acknowledge their request.

McElrath and James were arrested Thursday, Jan. 6, on charges of premeditated murder and special allegations that the murder was committed for the purpose of financial gain, lying in wait and that James allegedly used a handgun during the felony and that action resulted in Robert McElrath's death.

On Monday, Jan. 10, they pleaded not guilty to those charges as well as the special allegations.

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