Manslaughter case to be tried in Craig

District court judge denies motion to move case, suppress evidence


In response to a request filed by defense attorney Kristopher Hammond, 14th Judicial District Court Judge Joel Thompson denied the motion to change venue and part of a motion to suppress evidence in the manslaughter case against Luree Highpines Nelums, 44.

Nelums was charged after her husband, Gordon Ray Nelums, 48, was found dead June 11 in a local motel room with a stab wound in the femoral artery of his left thigh. Nelums is being held a Moffat County Jail on $50,000 bond awaiting her Feb. 15 trial.

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 a motion Oct. 22 to suppress evidence. He contends 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, and he requested the trial be moved to another county.

During the hearing on the motion, Craig Police Department Officer Carolyn Miller testified Nelums was handcuffed for about 1 hour and 20 minutes. After listening to tapes of the interview, Thompson concluded Nelums' handcuffs were not removed before or during her interview at the Craig police station, meaning she was in handcuffs for about eight hours before she was formally arrested.

Miller testified Nelums was handcuffed for officer safety, but Thompson disagreed with her assessment.

"There was no evidence to show the defendant was hysterical and needed cuffs," Thompson stated in his ruling.

Nelums claims all statements she made to police must be suppressed because she was subjected to interrogation, her statements were not made voluntarily and she did not waive her right to remain silent.

"The issue is whether a reasonable person in the suspect's position would consider himself deprived of freedom of action in a significant way at the time of questioning," Thompson stated.

The day Gordon Nelums was found dead, Miller escorted his wife back to the police station and did not conduct formal questioning until Lt. John Forgay arrived. Before Forgay's arrival, Nelums made voluntary statements such as "I killed my son, I killed my husband. He lied to me."

Thompson ruled the statements Nelums made in front of Miller would be allowed as evidence because Miller made no attempt to elicit those statements.

"Because the defendant was not subject to custodial interrogation and because her statements were made voluntarily, I deny the motion to suppress any statements made before Lt. Forgay arrived," Thompson stated.

Thompson granted a motion to suppress any evidence gained through Forgay's questioning because Nelums clearly articulated her intent to exercise her right to remain silent.

Forgay read Nelums her Miranda rights soon after he arrived, but she refused to sign a form saying she understood them. After hearing her rights, she discussed her need to have an attorney and said, "I have nothing to say, nothing."

"Under the circumstances, I find the defendant clearly and unequivocally expressed the intent to exercise her right to remain silent," Thompson said. "A reasonable police officer under the same circumstances would have understood that she had done so."

Hammond filed the motion to change venue because of pretrial publicity. It was denied, Thompson said, because "coverage in this case has not been voluminous, intense or sensational."

In the eight months since Nelums was found dead, seven articles have appeared in the Craig Daily Press. Thompson said because of the high level of community interest in the case, the number of articles published has not been excessive.

"The articles generally contain basic background information about the crime and report the current status of the court proceedings," Thompson stated. "The newspaper accounts contain fact-based reporting and do not opine on the guilt or innocence of the defendant and do not attempt to inflame the passion of the community."

No other motions are before the court at this time.

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