Suspect in cop-killing to face trial in January
Pleads not guilty in deputy’s death
The Mesa County man charged with murder in the 2016 slaying of Mesa County sheriff’s deputy Derek Geer will have two trials — a jury trial on the murder charge, and another on several others.
Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley on Tuesday set a three-week trial beginning in January on the murder and related charges, to be followed by a three-day trial to the court on other, unrelated, counts.
Defense attorney Sheryl Ullman entered a not guilty plea on Holzer’s behalf to all charges during a hearing on Monday.
Holzer, 19, is to stand trial as an adult in connection with the Feb. 8, 2016, killing of Geer, Gurley ruled after an extended hearing through 2016 and part of this year on Holzer’s contention that he should be prosecuted as a juvenile. Holzer was two months short of his 18th birthday when Geer confronted him and died after suffering multiple gunshot wounds.
A jury will hear evidence in the first-degree murder trial that is to begin on Jan. 8 and continue through most of the remainder of the month. The jury also will decide charges of first-degree assault, first-degree criminal trespass, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a defaced firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, prohibited use of a weapon and possession of a handgun by a juvenile.
In the second trial, the judge will decide on charges that Holzer failed to register as a sex offender, a count of defacing a firearm, and three counts of theft of firearms in connection with .22, .40 and .45 caliber handguns.
The second trial is not linked to the first, so that if Holzer were to be acquitted by a jury, he would still face the second trial.
In court papers, Holzer’s public defenders contended that evidence of the requirement that Holzer should have registered in Mesa County as a sex offender at a joint trial would “improperly place his character at issue and would stigmatize him in the eyes of the jury.”
Similarly, the firearm-defacement and theft charges could put Holzer at a disadvantage before a jury, his attorneys said.
“A jury would use evidence relating to those charges to infer that Austin Holzer has a criminal character, that he is untrustworthy and that he is more likely to have committed the other charged offenses,” Holzer’s attorneys wrote.
Such “improper character influences” could impair his rights to due process, a fair trial, the presumption of innocence and his right to testify, the attorneys said.
“Even if Austin Holzer chose not to testify at trial, these prejudicial inferences would color jurors’ consideration of statements made by him and introduced by the prosecution,” the defense motion said. “This prejudice would be compounded in light of the enormous pre-trial publicity surrounding this case and the overwhelming community response to Deputy Geer’s death.”