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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Attorneys hired by the Mexican government, left, will be taking over the defense of Francisco Beltran, (center right at table) who was convicted of murder. The lawyers were filling for in for another attorney who will be handling the case but could not be present.

A convicted murderer reputed to have a short fuse faces a long wait before learning whether his argument that he didn't receive competent legal representation could alter his future.

Judge Kenneth C. Twisselman II confirmed Wednesday that Francisco Beltran Jr. is represented by new legal counsel who will need time to review the case and file motions on Beltran's behalf. The judge set a status conference for Jan. 24, at which time it will be discussed when future court hearings will be held.

It could take months to determine factors such as whether Beltran, 28, should receive a new trial.

A jury convicted Beltran on Sept. 10 of crimes including murder, attempted murder and robbery. They recommended the death penalty.

Prosecutors have said Beltran shot and killed Ruben Tafoya on Jan. 24, 2010 after Tafoya told him to "mind your own business." A member of the Varrio Bakers criminal street gang, Beltran shouted "Varrio!" after killing Tafoya.

A month before Tafoya's killing, Beltran shot and severely wounded Antonio Galvan during a robbery with other gang members.

A sort of musical chairs of defense attorneys appeared in court Wednesday. Twisselman relieved Beltran trial attorneys Michael C. Lukehart and Ronald Carter of their duties.

The judge had been prepared to appoint local attorney Charles Soria through the Indigent Defense Program. But Beltran is a Mexican national, and the Mexican government paid for him to retain the services of Santa Monica-based attorney Marcia Ann Morrissey.

A medical procedure prevented Morrissey from attending Wednesday's court hearing. Berkeley-based attorney James Thomson and Sonoma-based attorney Skyla Olds made a special appearance on her behalf.

Morrissey will be Beltran's attorney going forward.

Beltran had been scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 22, but he submitted a three-page written statement to Twisselman alleging he did not receive competent representation. Twisselman granted a closed hearing during which Beltran made a plausible argument that his counsel failed to perform with reasonable competence.