Lawyers may argue self-defense in deputy’s slaying

Austin Holzer

Attorneys for accused killer Austin Holzer have raised the possibility they might assert at trial that their client was acting in self-defense when he allegedly gunned down a Mesa County sheriff’s deputy trying to arrest him last year, according to pre-trial motions filed earlier this month.

Holzer was 17 years and 10 months old and on the run from a warrant when Mesa County sheriff’s deputy Derek Geer attempted to arrest him Feb. 8, 2016, on a Pear Park roadside. Geer used his Taser on the teen while Holzer struggled to escape. Then, prosecutors believe, Holzer pulled a stolen gun and shot Geer repeatedly in the face and neck.

Holzer was captured a short time later. Geer, a married father of two, died of his injuries.

Public defenders Sheryl Uhlmann and Scott Burrill have asked Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley to order the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office to release personnel records of Geer. In separate motions they asked for the office’s procedures on use of force and policies on responding to weapons calls.

“A person may assert self-defense, even when the alleged victim is a peace officer,” Burrill wrote. “The evidence likely to be presented at trial will indicate that Deputy Geer utilized force in the form of a Taser, causing Austin Holzer to be in fear of the use of imminent excessive force against him. At the time of his contact with Deputy Geer, Austin Holzer was not under arrest for any crime.”

Holzer, now 19, has been charged with first-degree murder and other charges in Geer’s death. After a protracted series of hearings, Gurley in April granted prosecutors’ request that the teen be tried as an adult. Holzer is due back in court 
Aug. 7 for more pre-trial proceedings, and is currently set for trial in January.

Gurley has already granted the defense’s request that Holzer have three trials instead of one. A jury will hear Holzer’s trial for first-degree murder, first-degree assault and other offenses. Separately, court trials will be held on his charge of failing to register as a sex offender, and on charges that he stole several guns.

In a flurry of pre-trial requests, Uhlmann and Burrill have also sought to move Holzer’s trial out of Mesa County, and to convince Gurley to throw out evidence about the teen’s criminal background.

Uhlmann and Burrill have informed Gurley of their intent to formally ask for a change of trial venue based on Holzer’s notoriety. In a June 26 motion, the defense wrote it has hired a research firm to determine public opinion about Holzer’s case.

“Preliminary polling results from approximately 200 Mesa County residents and 200 non-residents show that 75.1 percent of Mesa County residents believe Austin Holzer to be guilty, as opposed to 7.6 percent of those polled statewide,” Uhlmann wrote.

Uhlmann noted several other cases that successfully sought venue changes with less public opinion of guilt based on pre-trial polling.

Michael Blagg — who in 2004 was convicted of his wife’s murder by a Mesa County jury before the conviction was tossed because a juror lied about her background — has successfully petitioned to have his second trial moved to the Front Range. Uhlmann wrote that only 52 percent of Mesa County residents polled for Blagg’s second trial were convinced of his guilt.

Mesa County prosecutors Mark Hand and Trish Mahre have requested more data on the defense’s poll moving forward.

The defense is also asking Gurley to exclude evidence about Holzer’s juvenile sexual offense record during trial, arguing in a motion that he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a young girl in his family under advice from an ineffective public defender. In another document, Uhlmann also argued that the juvenile case would prejudice the jury.

“Jurors would feel hatred, horror and contempt for Austin Holzer upon hearing evidence that he committed a sexual offense against (a) child and/or a family member,” she wrote.


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