Blagg may be eligible for release on bond
More than 100 witnesses were called.
They testified over 23 days.
It involved lawyers — all of them now retired or moved on — who were familiar with more than 25,000 pages of police reports.
At what cost in dollars to Mesa County?
Nobody in local law enforcement on Wednesday and Thursday seemed interested in tallying those numbers, while some claimed the real amount is unknowable. They pondered doing it all over again in a second trial for 51-year-old convicted killer Michael Blagg.
Blagg, who’s serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for the November 2001 murder of his wife, Jennifer, may soon be eligible for bond to be set in his case and pretrial release from custody, Mesa County prosecutors noted Thursday.
But first things first: Prosecutors hadn’t decided as of Thursday whether they’ll appeal the order from Mesa County Chief Judge David Bottger granting a second trial. The decision will be made in consultation with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said.
What follows is speculative, while possible timing isn’t clear.
If Bottger’s ruling is not appealed, or appealed and shot down by a higher court, the case will be remanded to Mesa County and Blagg himself will be moved from the Colorado Department of Corrections and housed at the Mesa County Jail.
Steve Colvin, who heads the Colorado Public Defender’s Office in Grand Junction, said Wednesday that he was in the process of determining Blagg’s lead counsel and defense team.
Once Blagg is returned to Mesa County, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said he expects Bottger will move to vacate Blagg’s 2004 trial convictions for first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of theft and abuse of a corpse.
A bond hearing also is anticipated. Blagg was free on a $500,000 cash or surety bond before his 2004 trial in Mesa County.
“Whether or not he posts bond may affect the defense’s strategy,” Rubinstein said. “They might delay (retrial) a lot more if he’s out of custody.”
Blagg’s 2004 conviction would be an obvious prosecution theme in arguing for a high, hard-to-make bond.
“Certainly it enters into the calculus on whether he’s a flight risk: The fact he knows a jury has already convicted him once of this,” Rubinstein said.
A no-bond hold will be unlikely under current Colorado law, prosecutors said.
Hautzinger’s office remains the lone district attorney’s office in Colorado with no investigators on staff, a casualty of county budget cuts.
That means reaching out to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office or other agencies toward tracking down witnesses, some of whom may have moved away from Mesa County or died, Hautzinger said.
Everyone deemed necessary for a second prosecution will be asked to review their 2004 trial testimony and possibly their original statements to law enforcement.
“We’ll see if people are saying, ‘I don’t remember,’ or, ‘I remember things differently now,’ or, ‘I lied when I lied when I lied,’” Hautzinger said.
The DA added, “I’m not sure it takes 120 witnesses to prove this case.”
With nearly 13 years of publicity on the matter in Mesa County, expect a defense change-of-venue motion to move a retrial away from Mesa County, prosecutors said.
A new trial also means applying advancements in technology, most notably DNA, since Blagg’s first trial, Rubinstein said.
“We’ll have to take a completely fresh look at the case with today’s technology and figure out what it all means,” he said.
Bottger on Wednesday ordered a new trial for Blagg after finding a juror in 2004, Marilyn Charlesworth, lied about her background when she answered “no” on a jury questionnaire when asked about prior domestic violence involvement.
“It is fundamental to the right of a fair trial that a defendant be provided with an impartial jury,” Bottger’s order said.