Judge notes credibility issue, but nixes Wright-case retrial
Credibility concerns surrounding former Fruita police officer Jared Wright will not force a new trial in an impaired-driving case handled by Wright, a Mesa County judge ruled Thursday.
Mesa County Judge Craig Henderson, however, said a public defender’s bid for a new trial in the DWAI case of 39-year-old Rebecca Palmquist was “not without merit.”
“Indeed, one cannot honestly look at the newly discovered evidence in Wright’s personnel file relating to this former police officer’s credibility and wonder if a jury should’ve heard this evidence and wonder if the outcome was the correct one,” Henderson wrote in an order Thursday, denying Palmquist’s motion for a new trial.
“The legal standard ... for new trials is higher than mere guesses or possibilities,” Henderson said.
Palmquist was convicted by a jury June 20 of driving while ability impaired in a case largely resting on Palmquist’s word against Wright, the embattled Republican candidate for House District 54. Wright was the DA’s lone witness.
The case involved a Sept. 20, 2011, traffic stop at the intersection of Aspen Avenue and Ash Street in Fruita. Palmquist refused to submit to chemical sobriety testing or roadside maneuvers.
Henderson’s ruling noted jurors heard an audio recording, covering part of the traffic stop involving Wright and Palmquist.
In the recording, Palmquist acknowledged consuming three mixed alcoholic drinks and a “rum cherry,” Henderson’s ruling said.
“Even if one discounts all of the disputed testimony of Wright in this case, we are still left with certain uncontroverted facts indicated by the defendant’s own verifiable statements,” Henderson wrote in his ruling.
While Henderson found Wright’s Fruita police personnel file contained “admissible impeachment evidence” against the former officer, the judge said “this evidence is factually unrelated to the case at hand and does not relate to Wright’s work on criminal cases in general or DUI cases specifically.” Henderson continued, “... it does not establish bias or motive for Wright to frame innocent individuals for crimes that were not committed.”
Among requirements for a new trial, Henderson wrote Colorado law says he would have to find newly discovered evidence would “probably” produce a not-guilty verdict in a second trial.
“Simply put,” the judge concluded, “it just does not pass muster under the law as this court understands it.”
Public defender Elsa Archambault wrote in her motion for a new trial she learned of Wright’s credibility concerns in a so-called Brady letter distributed July 23 by District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.
Wright was given the option to resign or be fired after an internal affairs investigation found he was dishonest in his explanation of his whereabouts on the job on June 14.
It wasn’t clear Friday if Henderson’s ruling would be appealed.