Jury seated in 2007 slaying case
Despite the national notoriety of Grand Junction call girl Paige Birgfeld’s disappearance nine years ago, a widely publicized murder trial this summer that ended in a hung jury, and a do-over scheduled in the heart of the holiday season, attorneys on Friday managed to seat a jury to hear the second trial of the man accused in her death.
But attorneys trying Lester Ralph Jones for first-degree murder didn’t even make it to opening arguments before losing a juror.
Jones, a one-time client of Birgfeld’s whom authorities believe kidnapped and killed her in 2007, stood trial this summer, but wasn’t convicted. Jurors deadlocked after days of deliberation and a mistrial was declared. His new trial was set to run from Monday through Dec. 23.
Jury selection began Monday. Although the parties took Thursday off for Thanksgiving, a jury of 15 people – 12 jurors and three alternates — was seated late Friday morning, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Waite. The court broke for lunch and planned to resume in the afternoon for opening arguments from both sides.
District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said after lunch — before opening statements — a juror told Chief Judge Brian Flynn that she didn’t think she could judge another person.
“She relayed her feeling that she could not pass judgment. The judge asked if I had any questions for her,” Rubinstein wrote in an email Friday afternoon. “I asked her what would happen if we got to the end of the trial, and she was asked to cast her vote either for guilty or not guilty. She said she would not be able to say either way.”
The woman was excused from the jury, Rubinstein said.
Eight men and six women comprise the rest of the jury, with only two alternates remaining for the next month of trial.
Birgfeld, a Grand Junction woman and divorced mother of three, led a double life as an escort up until her disappearance June 28, 2007. Three days later, authorities found Birgfeld’s car on fire in a parking lot not far from Jones’ workplace near the intersection of G and 23 roads.
Investigators believe Jones, a married mechanic, became obsessed with Birgfeld after paying her for an erotic massage the year before and realized that he knew her through one of her ex-husbands. Jones continuously denied involvement in Birgfeld’s disappearance.
In 2012, hikers found Birgfeld’s skeletal remains, partially buried and with her skull swathed in duct tape, in a remote gully in Delta County. Jones, a Delta County native whose cellphone records showed that he had been in that area the week before Birgfeld’s disappearance, was arrested in November 2014.
The first jury that heard the case against Jones deadlocked with nine in favor of convictions and three in favor of an acquittal, although one of the three who voted not guilty told reporters she would have changed her vote had she been the only holdout.
Jones, who is represented by public defenders Steve Colvin and Kara Smith, will return to court at 9 a.m. Monday.