PASCO -- Franklin County Prosecutor Steve Lowe might continue to be the prosecutor in three murder cases after the new year even though he no longer will be in office.
Lowe, who lost his re-election bid to defense attorney Shawn Sant, told Judge Robert Swisher on Tuesday that he has been asked by Sant to stay on as a special prosecutor to help handle the first-degree murder case against Gregorio Luna Luna.
Luna Luna, 31, is accused of fatally stabbing his son's mother, 21-year-old Griselda Ocampo Meza, on May 24.
"I think your continued involvement is desirable given your knowledge of the case," Swisher told Lowe.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
Sant and Karla Kane were appointed as Luna Luna's defense attorneys, but earlier this month Sant was removed from the case and defense attorney Shelley Ajax was appointed.
Because Sant was Luna Luna's defense attorney, he cannot serve as prosecutor on the case. And once he becomes the county prosecutor at the beginning of the year, none of the deputy prosecutors in his office will be eligible to handle it, Lowe said.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller has agreed to step in as a special prosecutor in two other cases and may agree to also take on this case, Lowe said. Lowe said he has been asked to stay on as co-counsel.
Lowe, however, can't appoint himself, and Sant also can't appoint a special prosecutor. So Lowe said Judge Swisher would have to make the appointment.
"I'm willing to assist under the right financial obligations," Lowe said.
He also explained that after contacting local attorneys, three indicated willingness to take a special appointment at a pay range of $150 to $400 an hour.
Two of the attorneys said they would agree to be appointed co-counsel on the Luna Luna case. They weren't named, but Lowe said both are well qualified.
Ajax agreed a special prosecutor is needed for the case and noted "it would be more cost effective if Mr. Lowe" was the special prosecutor. Miller would not be paid as Benton County would provide free assistance.
Swisher agreed and said he was ready to appoint both Lowe and Miller to the case.
Lowe said he first needed to confirm Miller would accept the case and negotiate a fee for himself to stay on the case.
Swisher, who is assigned to Luna Luna's case, said another judge would have to negotiate the financial arrangements with Lowe.
Luna Luna's trial is set for Jan. 24, but it is expected to be continued until the spring.
Both sides will be back in court in two weeks to finalize the special prosecutor appointments and set new trial dates.
Special prosecutors also are needed for the 2008 murder cases against brothers Jose and Ramon Garcia-Morales, who are accused of gunning down a Pasco couple.
The brothers are charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder for fatally shooting Alfredo Garcia, 42, and critically wounding his wife, Maria Ramirez de Garcia, 38.
Sant was Jose Garcia-Morales' defense attorney so the prosecutor's office won't be able to handle either case.
Miller has agreed to step in as the special prosecutor in both cases, and Lowe has been asked to be co-counsel on those cases.
Jose Garcia-Morales, 27, does not have a trial date set in his case because he was undergoing mental evaluations.
He previously has been found competent to stand trial but was being re-evaluated after he started having severe depression in the Franklin County jail.
Ramon Garcia-Morales, 30, faces a Jan. 5 trial. He also has been found competent to stand trial, but his attorneys say he's not talking to them and can't help them prepare for trial.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; email@example.com