BRADENTON -- Triple-murder suspect Andres "Andy" Avalos Jr. is scheduled to go to trial in July 2016.
Avalos is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 4 slayings of his wife, Amber Avalos; neighbor, Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James "Tripp" Battle, 31.
If Avalos is convicted, the State Attorney's Office has said it will seek the death penalty.
Avalos was in court Thursday afternoon as assistant public defender Franklin Roberts asked court permission to take him to a medical facility in Sarasota for a PET scan on his brain. A positron emission tomography scan is an imaging test that uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to look for disease in the body.
Assistant State Attorney Art Brown did not object.
Manatee County Sheriff's Office attorney Michelle Hall expressed concerns to Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky about the logistics of transporting Avalos from the county jail, where he is being held without bond, to Sarasota. The primary concern was the facility location has been disclosed.
The sheriff's office estimates it will take 29 deputies to safely transport Avalos to have the PET scan.
There is always a risk of retaliation and escape, Hall added, and Avalos has reputed ties to a gang.
Dubensky ruled the defense has the right to choose the medical facility, but the sheriff's office has the right to choose a date and not disclose it beforehand.
Avalos' lawyers could use PET scan results as part of a defense against the death penalty at trial.
Dubensky, appointed to the case after it was moved to the Major Trial Division, set trial July 18. Brown moved to schedule the trial earlier in 2016, but Roberts insisted the defense would need until the summer, at least, to prepare.
"I do think July is a reasonable trial date," Duben
sky said. "That's 14 months from now."
Unless it involves medical issues, Dubensky added, he saw no reason to grant a continuance. He also said the case would be set for a status conference in December to gauge its progress.
Investigators said Avalos hanged his wife from a cord in the laundry room of their northwest Bradenton home, beat her and then shot her.
He also gunned down Potter, who had been visiting his home, investigators said.
After the women were slain, investigators said Avalos dropped his 4-year-old son off at day care and went to the Walmart Supercenter on State Road 64 where he left his vehicle. He then took a taxi to Bayshore Baptist Church, 6502 14th St. W., where investigators and witnesses said he shot and killed Battle.
Avalos was arrested Dec. 6 after a 51-hour manhunt led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and a public plea from his father to turn himself in for the sake of his six children.
He was arrested in a mobile home park less than two blocks from Bayshore Baptist Church a few hours after his father's plea.
After his arrest, Avalos admitted to the slayings, Assistant State Attorney Brown said in court Dec. 7.
On Dec. 16, Avalos was indicted on three first-degree counts of murder.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.