Fourteenth Judicial District Judge Joel Thompson spent more than three hours in court Monday hearing arguments on a motion to suppress evidence and a motion to change venue in the manslaughter case of People vs. Luree Highpines Nelums.
Nelums, 44, was charged with manslaughter after her husband, Gordon Ray Nelums, 48, was found dead June 11 in a room of the Colorado Inn motel with a stab wound in the femoral artery of his left thigh. Nelums is being held at Moffat County Jail on $50,000 bond awaiting her Feb. 13 trial date.
Kristopher Hammond, a public defender who also works for Oliphant, Hammond, O'Hara and Atwell in Steamboat Springs, filed a motion Nov. 22 to change the venue of the trial and on Oct. 22 filed a motion to suppress evidence.
Hammond contends that investigating officers elicited comments from Nelums illegally and those comments were given while Nelums was being illegally detained. The publicity of those comments, he believes, has influenced the jury pool in Moffat and Routt counties, so he wants the trial moved to another county.
Craig Police Department Officer Carolyn Miller testified that Nelums was handcuffed when Miller arrived at the scene at 5:22 a.m. The first officer on the scene, Eric Cox, told Miller that Nelums had been agitated when he first arrived. Miller said Nelums smelled of alcohol and officers were concerned because it took three of them to subdue Nelums during an incident several days before where an officer was injured.
Nelums remained in handcuffs for about 1 hour and 20 minutes without being formally arrested and was in police custody for about three hours before she was advised of her Miranda rights.
"She was detained for questioning," Miller said. "She was in handcuffs for officer safety."
Before Nelums was read her rights, Miller said she was never questioned and all statements Nelums gave to that point were spontaneous.
Hammond argued that it was Miller's job to get information from Nelums and that was her sole purpose in staying with Nelums until other officers arrived.
Once Craig Police Department Lt. John Forgay arrived at the police department and read Nelums her rights, he asked her to sign a form saying she understood those rights. Nelums refused and told officers she had nothing to say.
Hammond said at that point, questioning should have stopped because she chose not to comment and because she never waived her rights. According to Forgay, Nelums continued to talk unprompted about the incident after she said she had nothing to say. Forgay asked Nelums several times if she would talk to him, and at one point, she said it depended on what questions he asked.
According to Hammond, the problem is Forgay continued to ask Nelums questions even though she never agreed to answer them.
"If she had specifically told me 'No, I don't want to talk, I want a lawyer,' I wouldn't have asked any more questions," Forgay said.
Nelums was arrested at 1:30 p.m.
Hammond wants the spontaneous statements made by Nelums suppressed as evidence so they cannot be used at trial. He also wants other statements elicited during the interview process stricken because Nelums never waived her rights to remain silent or have a lawyer present.
Because he wants to listen to the tapes made of the interview, Thompson did not rule on the motion to suppress evidence nor on the motion to change venue because the two, he said, are related.
Attorneys have until Monday to file briefs on the motion to change venue and Thompson will rule shortly after that.
"I'll do what I can to rule as quickly as possible," he said.