Not guilty plea in beating death near bar

In a move that appeared to surprise attorneys on both sides, a 27-year-old man pleaded not guilty Thursday in the beating death of another man near a downtown Grand Junction bar in November.

Sahr Benjamin Mbawa is scheduled for trial over seven days starting June 25 in District Judge Brian Flynn’s courtroom.

Mbawa, who had been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 32-year-old Richard Martinez, was scheduled on Thursday for a plea hearing. Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein last month signaled that an agreement was nearly finalized.

Witnesses told police in an arrest warrant affidavit that Mbawa repeatedly punched and kicked Martinez in an early morning brawl Nov. 3 near Quincy Bar, and the fight spilled into the nearby intersection of Sixth and Main streets. Mbawa was arrested in Denver three days later.

Rubinstein in January moved to dismiss Mbawa’s second-degree murder charge, saying he couldn’t prove Mbawa knew that his conduct would result in Martinez’s death.

Mbawa remains charged with manslaughter, first-degree assault causing serious bodily injury, violation of bail bond conditions and three sentence-enhancing habitual criminal charges. He is still being held at the Mesa County Jail on $300,000 bond.

Rubinstein told Flynn on Thursday he will seek to introduce at trial evidence of prior bad acts by Mbawa as character evidence.

At the time Martinez was assaulted, Mbawa was free on bond related to his arrest in Gunnison County in September on suspicion of assault.


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