Murder trial stalls, evidence ruled on
A judge has allowed certain evidence and suppressed other evidence in the case of accused murderer Marcus Bebb-Jones, while also delaying his upcoming trial to allow the defense team more time to prepare.
Meanwhile, Bebb-Jones’ public defense team has filed new motions in the case, including one attempting to prevent any reference to him being a gambler in the trial.
The trial delay means the case theoretically could be tried by a prosecution team with a new leader. A five-week trial that had been scheduled to start next week now is set to begin April 1. Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson, a Republican, is facing an election challenge this fall from Democrat Sherry Caloia. Beeson had hoped to have the trial completed this year.
Bebb-Jones, 49, faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of his wife, Sabrina Bebb-Jones. The two owned the Melrose Hotel in Grand Junction when she disappeared in 1997. Her skull was found in 2004 on Douglas Pass in Garfield County.
According to court records, District Judge Daniel Petre reluctantly agreed to the trial delay to ensure Bebb-Jones’ right to a fair trial. His public defense team says it only recently received the physical evidence in the case, along with late disclosure of information regarding certain prosecution witnesses. One expert prosecution witness recently concluded from an analysis of Sabrina’s skull that she may have been shot — a conclusion the witness hadn’t made after a 2005 examination of the skull.
The case also has been the subject in recent months of several days of motions hearings, most regarding defense attempts to suppress evidence, and Petre has ruled on several of them.
Among them, Petre ruled against motions to suppress:
■ Seizure of a laptop and evidence in it when Bebb-Jones was arrested in 2009 in England. Petre found the seizure appeared to have been carried out in accordance with local requirements in the country where Bebb-Jones is a citizen, and that its contents were not accessed by investigators in the United States until he issued a warrant.
■ Evidence seized from hotel rooms and a rented red Ferrari in Las Vegas several days after Sabrina’s disappearance, and just after Bebb-Jones shot himself through a cheek. Petre ruled that in formulating an intent to kill himself, Bebb-Jones implied an intent to abandon property he’d had the right to use, leaving him without standing to challenge the legality of searches of them.
■ Comments made to Kevin Imbriaco of the Grand Junction Police Department while in a Las Vegas hospital recovering from the shooting wound. Bebb-Jones repeatedly said he wanted a lawyer, but Imbriaco told him he was simply trying to pursue a missing person case involving Bebb-Jones’ wife. Petre found Bebb-Jones’ statements were voluntary, he wasn’t being interrogated and he wasn’t in custody.
Bebb-Jones told investigators at the hospital that he hadn’t seen his wife since they were at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction and that she left after they argued over her allegations that he was being unfaithful to her.
■ Evidence seized from the Melrose Hotel and Bebb-Jones’ Grand Junction home. Petre determined that warrants for search warrants of those properties were properly obtained and executed.
■ Some evidence related to handling of his mail at the Garfield County Jail, and recording of his phone calls there. Petre found the mail handling was required in the jail setting, and that Bebb-Jones had been notified the calls would be recorded and in deciding to use the jail phone anyway had given his consent.
However, Petre found that the jail had inappropriately copied all his mail and burned recordings of all his calls to disks, for prosecution use, unlike in the case of other inmates, and that all evidence obtained by those means is suppressed.
Petre also decided to suppress:
■ Statements Bebb-Jones made to his psychiatrist. Petre said those were privileged statements intended to facilitate Bebb-Jones’ treatment and he hadn’t waived his right to keep them confidential.
■ Comments about Bebb-Jones’ silence and emotionless demeanor upon his arrest by English constables who speculated that he “knew this day was coming.” Petre found while that might tend to show guilt, that’s far outweighed by the possibility that he knew anything he said might be incriminatory.
In a new motion, Bebb-Jones’ attorneys argue that any suggestion at trial that Bebb-Jones is a gambler isn’t relevant to the case. They also challenge characterizations that he was a professional gambler. They say he began gambling in 2004 and started entering tournaments in 2006, winning one in 2007.
During a preliminary hearing, Beeson had described Bebb-Jones as “a gambler who now finds himself in the biggest poker game of his life.”