Murder-case retrial set for holidays
While most others will be hopping between holiday parties, getting in their turns on the ski slopes or just relaxing with family and friends, more than a dozen residents — here in Mesa County or elsewhere — likely will be spending the days surrounding the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in a jury box.
A judge on Friday scheduled the retrial of the man accused of kidnapping and killing Paige Birgfeld to begin Nov. 21, pressed into that date for reasons largely beyond his or the trial attorneys’ control.
Mesa County Chief District Judge Brian Flynn, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and Public Defender Steve Colvin convened for a roughly 30-minute hearing to set a new trial date for 65-year-old Lester Jones, who’s charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder and kidnapping in the 2007 slaying of the 34-year-old mother of three who moonlighted as an escort. The hearing came a week after Flynn declared a mistrial because a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
They quickly determined their options for a new trial date were limited.
Colorado’s speedy trial law requires a new trial to begin within 90 days of the declaration of a mistrial, a right Colvin said Jones was asserting and wasn’t willing to waive. At the same time, Colvin said he is awaiting transcripts of witness testimony from the first trial, something he said he won’t receive for 60 days. That negated Rubinstein’s desire to begin the second trial on Oct. 24.
Flynn, Rubinstein and Colvin spent some time Friday kicking around ways to shorten the retrial. Flynn said his division clerk determined the parties in the case spent 145 hours in trial, a figure that translates to a little more than 18 days, not including jury deliberation. That figure, though, assumed each trial day lasted eight hours — 9 to 5 — and in reality, that rarely occurred. Jurors were given a 90-minute break for lunch every day, and the trial started at 10 a.m. two days each week to allow Flynn to handle other cases on his docket.
In order to shorten the retrial, Flynn briefly discussed having proceedings run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, with a one-hour lunch break. But Rubinstein and Colvin frowned upon that idea, saying they need an hour to hour and a half after each day’s proceedings to prepare witnesses, testimony and exhibits for the next day.
With Christmas falling on Sunday this year, Colvin suggested giving jurors the Friday before and the Monday after off. There was no discussion about whether jurors would get the Friday after Thanksgiving off.
Beginning with jury selection and ending with the mistrial declaration — and with a few weekday off-days in between — the first trial lasted 47 calendar days. Should the retrial last the same number of calendar days — the judge and the attorneys are trying to shorten it by a week or so — it would run through Jan. 6, although that doesn’t account for any days the jury would have off around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Colvin fought unsuccessfully for a change of venue for the first trial. It’s unknown whether he’ll try to move the retrial out of Mesa County.
Rubinstein said after Friday’s hearing that while he believes it will be challenging to find an impartial jury given the intense media attention and the proximity of the retrial to the original trial, he’s not concerned about being able to seat a jury because of the proximity of the holidays.
“I think that’ll be fine,” he said.