AZTEC — John Mayes' lonely wait is almost over.

He has spent more than a year and a half in near solitary confinement awaiting trial, which attorneys for both sides say is likely to begin Aug. 20.

Mayes, 19, is charged with first-degree murder and other felonies in connection to the death of Dr. James Nordstrom, who was found beaten to death in his backyard in Farmington's north Foothills neighborhood on June 10, 2011.

Mayes appeared in court on Thursday and District Judge William Birdsall set an Aug. 8 hearing date to argue final matters before the trial.

Mayes, the son of Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes, is being held in one of two maximum security blocks at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center while he waits for trial.

He spends 23 hours a day locked in the first cell at the entrance to the cell block with books and magazines from the jail library to pass the time. The inmates in the cell block are let out into a commons area in a rotation for one hour a day to do laundry, make collect phone calls, shower or watch a small television, Detention Center Administrator Tom Havel said.

"He's not in here for punitive measures," Havel said. "Because of the charges, he'll be in here until his trial to ensure his safety, and that's the bottom line."

Mayes is in the maximum security unit for his own safety and because of the nature of the charges against him, Havel said.

A lengthy pretrial incarceration can take a toll on the accused, said Stephen Taylor, one of Mayes' attorneys.

"Absolutely there are issues," he said. "I think the type of thing that's lost is the recognition that a person waiting for a trial, presumed to be innocent, is kept locked up until you get your day in court. And the manner in which you are kept has an effect on your mental health and your well-being, and people deteriorate under those conditions."

Havel said Mayes is not in solitary confinement.

"It's not an area that is harsh. They have a lot of freedoms," Havel said. "It's just that they have an individual cell, and they are in it for 23" hours a day.

Studies into the prolonged effects of "administrative isolation" -- which includes Mayes' living conditions -- have yielded mixed results, according to the National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some studies have concluded isolation has a deteriorating effect on mental health, and others have found there is no long-term damage caused by the practice, according to a report on the institute's website.

The number of prisoners nationwide who are locked in a cell alone for 22 hours a day or more increased by 17 percent in the last five years, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

Havel said jail staff give all inmates who are booked in the detention center a classification number, which determines where they will stay.

The general population inmates are kept in one of eight cell blocks based on a variety of factors, including the charges against them. Two maximum-security cell blocks hold inmates charged with serious crimes, inmates who would be at risk if they were put in the general population and inmates who have broken detention center rules, Havel said.

On Friday, 59 of the 678 inmates at the detention center were in a maximum-security cell block.

Mayes was originally held in a juvenile detention facility after his arrest in June 2011, and he was moved to the adult detention center in January 2012.

Early on, Havel said Mayes showed signs he was "deteriorating." He appeared lethargic and wasn't leaving his cell during his allocated hour out, Havel said. Havel allowed Mayes to have a special visit with his parents.

He now appears to be healthy, Havel said.

"John Mayes has not been a problem. We have not had one disciplinary action against him," he said. "I check on him quite frequently. His spirit seems to be pretty good. He's doing well as far as his incarceration goes."

Mayes' attorney says the isolation will affect his client.

"He went in as a 17-year-old and now he's 19," Taylor said. "He's spent two years locked up and confined and that does have an effect on your ability to concentrate, your ability to engage and to focus."

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.