Motions hearing drags on

Judge makes no ruling in sex assault case after third day of testimony

A defense lawyer accused the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office of ignoring its ethical obligations to defendants and setting aside fairness in favor of a "lust for convictions."

Sheryl Uhlmann, a Colorado State Deputy Public Defender who works out of the Steamboat Springs office, said prosecutors have perpetrated what she called, "a continued cloaking, concealing and manipulating of evidence."

Uhlmann urged Judge Michael O'Hara to dismiss the case against her client, who is charged with sexual assault. O'Hara is the chief judge of the 14th Judicial District.

O'Hara heard testimony and verbal arguments in a motions hearing that spilled into its third day Wednesday. The hearing again ran longer than the allotted time, and the judge did not rule on Uhlmann's request. The hearing will require a fourth day to conclude.

The case involves a former Craig man accused of drugging and raping a girl at his home in 2001. At the time of the alleged incident, the victim was 16 years old and the defendant was 20.

The prosecution admitted mishandling the case, when District Attorney Bonnie Roesink took the stand during the second day of testimony April 15. Roesink cited procedural violations by her office and mistakes by the Craig Police Department.

Uhlmann said the prosecution failed to turn over evidence in a timely manner and also failed to disclose evidence that was favorable to her client. She said an investigator from the District Attorney's office did not report that a technician had concerns about blood samples related to the case. Prosecutors tested the victim's blood for the presence of drugs associated with date rape, including Rohypnol.

Two teenage girls took the stand Wednesday and said they spent the day before the alleged incident hanging out with the defendant and the alleged victim. The group spent most of the day and night smoking crack, the witnesses testified.

Uhlmann said it will be impossible to test the alleged victim's blood for the presence of cocaine because the blood sample was lost. Another blood sample related to the case was stored at room temperature, which caused it to deteriorate.

"There is no way for us to recover the evidence the prosecution destroyed," Uhlmann said.

A positive test result could show the girl lied about her drug use and had a motive to lie about why she was out all night, Uhlmann said.

The loss of evidence "makes us unable to get a test result to show this girl is lying," Uhlmann said.

Uhlmann said the District Attorney's Office has a pattern of violating procedural rules. To bolster her argument, she referred to two previous Moffat County cases in which the court had to impose sanctions because prosecutors failed to disclose information to the defense.

In both cases, charges were dismissed after the court found prosecutors did not comply with orders to hand over information.

Prosecutor Amy Fitch said dismissal of charges in the case would be an "extreme remedy" that would be inappropriate. Fitch is the chief deputy district attorney from Grand County who recently has been assigned to work on the case. Moffat County's Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Waite and Roesink both were previously in charge of the case, which has been reassigned several times.

Fitch said the mistakes in the case were accidents and not willful attempts to sabotage evidence. She said the court only should consider the case at hand and not the pattern Uhlmann referred to.

During a lengthy exchange between Fitch and the judge, O'Hara said the court, in its supervisory role, has an obligation to uphold society's expectations of the justice system and make sure the parties on both sides are acting fairly.

O'Hara continued the hearing to May 19. The case is scheduled for a five-day jury trial beginning May 24.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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