She said a conviction and sentence will help her move to the acceptance stage of grieving — accepting that her boy is gone.

Multi-defendant murder cases — like the one against Davis and five other men charged in the killing of Maraston's son — are particularly complex and often take years, prosecutors said. Just juggling the schedules of six defense attorneys delays cases for months at a time. Prosecutors say Davis shot Maraston's son; he alleges that it was others.

If she's lucky, Maraston won't have to wait as long as the family of Gary and Sandra De Bartolo, a Central Valley couple whose throats were slashed in what appears to be a robbery gone bad.

That was almost 12 years ago.

The man charged with wielding the knife was booked into a Fresno County jail on July 23, 2009, records show. He's been there ever since, accused but not convicted of the murder. It's one of the longest-running cases in the state, and it appears to have dragged on because it has multiple defendants and was ensnared in a statewide controversy over when accomplices can be held guilty of murder.

Sandra's younger brother, Ken Carvalho, remembers talking to law enforcement after the arrest. "They told me it'll be a year or two probably before this comes to a head. In July, it'll be 12 years. I've lost all faith in the judicial system," Carvalho said.

He said he's been to court 50 or 60 times over the years. He's on the fourth prosecutor handling the case. Two defendants were released in recent years.

Jury selection in the trial of his sister's accused killer began last year. Then it was halted when the pandemic hit. He doesn't even care if the suspect gets the death penalty or not. "I just want it done," he said.

'SERIOUS SHORTFALLS' IN COURT BUDGETS

Many attorneys and experts blame a lack of court resources for a role in the long delays.

"There's too many cases, too few courtrooms, too few judges, too few staff, insufficient numbers of jurors," said LaDoris Cordell, a retired Santa Clara Superior Court Judge.

The budget of California's judicial branch hasn't kept pace with the workload, according to a biennial report by the Judicial Council, the state judicial branch's policymaking body, prepared in November for the Legislature.

"The number of judgeships authorized and funded by the Legislature has not kept pace with workload in all California trial courts, leaving some with serious shortfalls," the council's administrative director wrote. Eighteen courts in the state need 139 more judges, according to the council.

In an attempt to assist the backlogged courts, the Judicial Council approved emergency measures during the pandemic to allow for remote proceedings, and lifted caps limiting the number of hours retired judges could work in a year.

Still, it's not a new problem: Local courts have long struggled with staffing levels and resources.

"We have been really challenged by the shortage of funding for many, many years," said David Yamasaki, the Orange County Superior Court's executive officer and a former member of the Judicial Council.

The number of judges alone, however, doesn't appear to be a solution to long delays. Dozens of courts appear to have adequate staffing levels and yet continue to struggle to resolve cases, Judicial Council data shows.

Individual judges do have some control over the pace of cases. They can push attorneys to reach agreements and can refuse to grant additional continuances.

"I've seen some courts that never saw a continuance it didn't like. I've heard of other judges that virtually never grant continuances and jam cases along. I'd say both of those extremes are probably not the best way to do business," said J. Richard Couzens, a former Placer County Superior Court judge who was part of a team of judges from around the state that helped clear backlogs in the Riverside County court during the mid-2000s.

The state needs to strike a balance between ensuring broad access to justice while also giving locally elected judges their discretion, he said.

Maraston says her son, who was murdered when he had just turned 21, "was a great kid and I miss him so much." (Photo by Shelby Tauber for CalMatters)

"Ultimately is the remedy going to be worse? Is the answer taking away judicial discretion?" Couzens said. "What injustice does that cause?"

In Sacramento, Davis was finally scheduled for a preliminary hearing this month to determine if there's enough evidence to keep holding him in jail. He asked the judge to go to trial, but the hearing was pushed back once again at the request of another defendant, this time to the end of May. By then, Davis will have spent 709 days in jail without a conviction.

For him, and the mother of the man he's accused of killing, the wait for justice continues.

Graphics by Jeremia Kimelman.


How CalMatters did the Waiting for Justice investigation

CalMatters wanted to investigate long delays in the state's trial courts related to the pandemic. There is no statewide accounting by the Judicial Council to determine the age of cases, how long people remain in jail awaiting trial, or how many felony cases were pending before and after the pandemic. So CalMatters sent Public Records Act requests to all 58 county sheriff's departments seeking rosters of pretrial detainees, along with basic information including date of incarceration.

Thirty-two counties sent us lists of unsentenced inmates that included about 5,800 people who have been behind bars for more than a year. Some sheriffs sent rosters of all inmates because they couldn't separate the unsentenced. Others sent links to their online inmate locator systems and told us to figure it out. Several ignored the request, while a few denied it.

Some counties appear to have sophisticated data capabilities to track cases. Others, not so much. The lists varied, with some providing names of only those who were waiting for their day in court, and others providing "unsentenced" inmates — a broader category that includes ones on a hold for a federal case or in a mental hospital awaiting a competency ruling.

When possible, CalMatters checked court records to confirm the status of an inmate's case. Still, it was not always possible to know why an individual defendant remains in jail.

For the counties that did not provide any data, CalMatters scraped online inmate locator systems to find inmates in jail for long periods of time. That led to discovery of another 2,800 inmates in 22 counties behind bars for longer than a year. CalMatters verified those jailed for more than three years by analyzing court records to determine which were actually unsentenced. Contra Costa provided raw statistics that we analyzed. Three counties — Ventura, Tuolumne and Trinity — provided no data and do not have online systems that we could check.

The results are imperfect. They capture a single moment in time from recent months: Statewide at least 1,300 unsentenced inmates were behind bars for more than three years. Some have since been convicted, released or sentenced, while others have marked another year behind bars awaiting a trial.

Still, our investigation is the most comprehensive accounting of pretrial detention in the state.