Rulings uphold two prominent conviction

Defendants in two high-profile Grand Junction criminal cases had their convictions affirmed recently by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said he was apprehensive about one decision, the conviction of Merle Eaton, because the rape case was successfully tried on hearsay evidence.

“I was pleasantly surprised that that one was upheld,” Hautzinger said.

Eaton, a Wyoming man, is serving a sentence of 72 years to life in prison for the July 2005 kidnap and rape of a woman hitchhiker he picked up in Grand Junction. He was 32 at the time.

Without testimony from the 45-year-old victim, prosecutors built their case on testimony from a sexual-assault nurse examiner, statements the victim made to an employee of a nearby business, photographs of the woman’s bruises, and DNA evidence.

Eaton’s defense was that he paid the woman $50 for sex and that the sex was consensual.

Eaton appealed the conviction on grounds that hearsay statements violated his constitutional rights to confrontation, and that the trial court should not have allowed the victim’s statements as evidence; that the court didn’t allow a juror’s question to be asked; and that prosecution misconduct undermined the trial.

Second case:

King is serving a 17-year prison sentence for helping Sam Lincoln elude police as he fired at officers in a high-speed vehicle chase. During her trial, King said she acted under duress when she eluded police by driving Sam Lincoln through town as he shot at police Dec. 1, 2005.

Lincoln was wanted by police for attempting to murder James Finnegan several days earlier in the desert north of Grand Junction.

King told detectives she did not pull over for police because she saw a “look of desperation” in
Sam Lincoln’s eyes and that she was afraid of being charged as an accomplice. She did not tell investigators that she was threatened by Lincoln, but King testified at her trial that she did not stop driving because she thought Lincoln would shoot her.

King’s appeal arguments included: she was limited in her cross-examination of a witness about his pending prosecution, in order to determine his motivation for testifying; prosecutors’ statements during closing arguments were impermissible attacks on her credibility; five jury instructions violated her right to due process; and she was denied a right to a fair trial because of cumulative errors.


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