Jury finds Craig woman guilty
Tausha Merwin convicted of attempting to influence a public servant
July 15, 2010
A jury of 12 residents returned a guilty verdict against Craig woman Tausha Merwin about 6 p.m. Wednesday in Moffat County District Court.
Merwin was convicted of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony.
Merwin pleaded not guilty to the charge Feb. 17.
According to court records, Merwin allegedly lied to Craig Police officials about her alleged relationship with Ken Johnson, a former Craig Police Department detective.
The jury deliberated the case for about three hours before returning its verdict.
Judge Shelley Hill set a sentencing hearing for Merwin at 1 p.m. Aug. 31.
The defense and prosecution made closing statements, which took about an hour, Wednesday afternoon after the jury was instructed on how to deliberate.
Several people testified during the trial, which started Monday, including Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta, commander Jerry DeLong and Johnson, among others.
Steamboat Springs attorney Ron Smith represented Merwin.
Jon Pfeifer, a Moffat County deputy district attorney, handled the case for the prosecution, with the help of Rusty Prindle, a deputy district attorney for the DA's office in Steamboat Springs.
Prindle began closing arguments about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday by outlining the reasonprosecutors felt Merwin attempted to influence the Craig Police Department during its internal investigation into her alleged relationship with Johnson.
"Not only did she attempt, she did," Prindle said.
Prindle said his argument contained two "puzzle pieces" — Merwin's relationship with Johnson and the deceit shown by Merwin to police officials.
Prindle recapped several pieces of evidence showing a relationship between Merwin and Johnson to the jury, including about 15,000 text messages exchanged between the two and her admission that she had a sexual relationship with Johnson.
Merwin also provided false information in a letter written to the police department, Prindle said.
"She couldn't wait to get those false statements to the police," he said. "She couldn't wait for them to come ask her. She went straight to the police with those false statements."
The letter stated that Johnson never had sexual contact with Merwin and that he never acted inappropriately to her, Prindle said.
"That was deceit," he said. "Because later, she changed her story."
Prindle said the reason for Merwin's deceit was that she and Johnson had developed a strong relationship and Merwin was "trying to protect Johnson" because she "knew that he could lose his job."
"Think about the deceit, it's so obvious," he said. "You've got it in the form of the letter, you've got the text messages, you've got the statements on one day and the totally different statements on the next."
Smith stated in his closing statement that Merwin should be found not guilty because the "Craig Police Department had no policy … against detective Ken Johnson from having a sexual relationship with Tausha Merwin."
"There is no decision they could make on that issue that she could influence," he said.
Smith said the relationship between Merwin and Johnson "was none of their business."
"What they did behind locked doors in the evening on their own was their own business because the Craig Police Department had no policy about it," he said. "We live in a free society and we have freedoms.
"Unless we have rules and regulations that tell us what we can't do, and there were no rules or regulations prohibiting their conduct."
Smith said that "just because people don't do the right thing," or because "they don't tell the truth, it doesn't make it a criminal act."
Pfeifer then responded to Smith's closing argument.
He said he agreed with one thing Smith said — "there are rules and there are laws."
"Ms. Merwin is not charged with violating a rule, she is charged with violating a law," Pfeifer said. "And the law is that she attempted to influence a public servant."
Pfeifer said the relationship between Merwin and Johnson was not the crime.
"In this case, the crime is the cover-up," he said. "Now, there may have been moral issues with the relationship that she had with Ken Johnson, but that was not a crime."
After the trial, Pfeifer said he was glad the case was over.
"I think it brings closure," he said.