Audience small for limited Grand Junction video view of trial

Every detail of the oak-paneled federal courtroom in Grand Junction is clearly displayed on the big screen in the courtroom itself, down to the vague shadow on the ceiling cast by the chandelier.

The courtroom is dominated not by the bench, but by a pair of large-screen televisions mounted side by side in front of the bench.

The left-hand screen shows the scene in the Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building in Grand Junction, the one on the right is divided into quadrants offering the viewer different perspectives of the seventh-floor courtroom in the Alfred Arraj Federal Courthouse in downtown Denver.

Grand Junction resident Philip Rand Lochmiller is standing trial in the Denver courtroom on charges that he bilked more than 400 investors, most of them retired or elderly and most of them from the Grand Junction area, out of more than $30 million in a Ponzi-like scheme centered on the offering of investments in affordable-housing developments in Colorado, Utah and Idaho.

Prosecutors sought to conduct the trial in Grand Junction, noting most of the investors in Valley Investments, investigators and Lochmiller himself lived and worked in the Grand Valley.

Lochmiller, however, wanted the trial in Denver, and Judge Philip A. Brimmer agreed, noting the difficulty of conducting the trial in the relatively small courtroom in Grand Junction, security issues and construction that was under way in the Aspinall building.

Some investors and surviving relatives, sometimes as many as eight, have viewed the Denver proceedings from the Grand Junction courtroom. More frequently, court personnel make up the audience.

The view from Grand Junction includes a camera angle trained on the witness stand, one on Brimmer, one at the lectern from which the attorneys question witnesses and a blank quadrant. Jurors are not shown.

The audience in Denver is privy to documents admitted into evidence when they are flashed on a large display screen in the courtroom.  Sections of the documents to which the attorneys want the witness and jury to direct their attention are frequently enlarged for easier reading on a monitor on the witness stand. Jurors also see the documents on monitors in front of them.

Courtroom observers in Grand Junction, however, see nothing. Court officials said efforts to display documents didn’t work.

Sometimes the rest of the Denver-Grand Junction connection also doesn’t work. The audio portion of the closed-circuit video simply went blank on Wednesday afternoon, and court officials were unable to immediately contact Denver for several minutes. The sound returned at one point without any explanation.

Observers in Grand Junction also see no interaction between Lochmiller and the witnesses against him, such as his reaction, if any, when his stepson testified under a plea agreement for the prosecution and told the jury about how both of them regularly mined investor accounts for their personal spending.

On occasion, the elevator at the Aspinall building has been out of service, but such delays have been short-lived.


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