Twists delay murder trial
A bizarre hearing in ’94 slaying of Palisade woman
A hearing on Tuesday for a man charged in the 1994 rape and murder of Palisade resident Jacie Taylor saw a judge briefly close a courtroom to the public, which was unrelated to defense claims that Taylor’s boyfriend had a woman’s dead body in his car before Taylor’s killing.
The defense also highlighted the 2001 disappearance of physical evidence in Taylor’s case from the Mesa County Courthouse.
In the end Tuesday, it all added up to a continuance.
District Judge Richard Gurley on Tuesday delayed next year’s scheduled trial for Douglas Thames, whose attorneys, Greg Greer and Garth McCarty, argued they need more time to investigate and gather records from Mesa County prosecutors and police on possible alternative suspects in Taylor’s killing.
A new trial date wasn’t scheduled.
Thames, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree sexual assault, first-degree murder and felony murder in connection with Taylor’s killing, had been scheduled for trial from Feb. 24 to March 31.
Tuesday’s hearing, which ran over four hours, saw Gurley take the unusual action of briefly closing his courtroom to the public and asking another judge to hold private conversations with Thames’ attorneys. This, in view of cryptic information in a defense court filing.
“The defense has recently become aware of issues that must be explored relating to Mr. Thames’ mental capacity,” Greer and McCarty wrote in a motion to continue the trial. “These issues must be explored with the assistance of scientific professionals.”
It continues, “Until this work is complete, the defense is unable to adequately prepare. Defense counsel are also operating under ethical constraints.”
The filing doesn’t give further explanation.
Gurley left the courtroom after Chief Judge David Bottger — it wasn’t explained why Gurley removed himself — came in to listen to Greer’s and McCarty’s concerns in private. Gurley first ordered Thames’ six supporters, prosecutors including Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle, a Mesa County Sheriff’s investigator and a Daily Sentinel reporter to leave the courtroom for approximately 15 minutes. Thames himself was also removed and taken to a holding cell. Thames told Bottger he was “fine” with his attorneys holding secret talks with the judge.
Back in public session, Bottger vaguely explained the issue, saying Thames’ mental competency to stand trial isn’t at issue.
“The issue is Mr. Thames’ ability to knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily make a waiver of his Miranda rights,” the judge said, adding he couldn’t say more.
Bottger said the information could impact a pending defense motion to suppress Thames’ statements to law enforcement.
Largely unaddressed on Tuesday was Thames’ recent diagnosis of having cancer, which became public at a hearing last month. Mesa County prosecutors on Tuesday pressed the defense for more details about Thames’ health.
“Cancer is not a golden ticket to a continuance,” Tuttle told the judge. “We haven’t received any substantial information on what his condition entails.”
Thames, 41, was charged with Taylor’s killing in April 2012 when a conviction against 52-year-old Robert “Rider” Dewey was discredited after the Colorado Attorney General’s Justice Review Project sought new DNA testing. Thames is serving life with the possibility of parole for the 1989 rape and murder of 39-year-old Fort Collins resident Susan Doll. He’s eligible for parole after 2035.
Prosecutors said at a preliminary hearing in May that DNA evidence in Taylor’s murder implicates Thames, ruling out 99.9 percent of all Caucasians except Thames.
Body in car
While telling the judge they’ve already received more than 40,000 pages of discovery from the prosecution, Thames’ attorneys argued Tuesday they need more time to investigate possible alternative suspects in Taylor’s killing, including Dewey.
Among those suspects, McCarty told the judge, is Taylor’s former boyfriend, whom police records indicate turned up at Taylor’s Palisade apartment one day with a woman’s dead body in his car. That woman was 19-year-old Paula Moore, who was raped and murdered in 1992 by 56-year-old Glenn Torres, who’s serving life in prison.
McCarty said Taylor was a victim of domestic violence by her boyfriend just three months before her murder. He reportedly told her, “I’m your worst nightmare.”
Moreover, a witness in the Moore murder investigation claimed Dewey was connected to Moore’s killing, McCarty said.
“The discovery and materials relating to the Paula Moore case are highly relevant to this case,” McCarty told the judge.
Dewey in September was awarded $1.2 million by Mesa County — the first Colorado resident to get compensation under a measure signed into law this summer — after spending just over 17 years in prison before his exoneration in April 2012.
In 1994, McCarty told the judge, Dewey was on the run and afraid of a motorcycle club, High Plains Drifters, after stealing a handgun from a member of the club.
“The High Plains Drifters went to Taylor and told her she was in danger as long as Dewey was hanging around,” McCarty said.
McCarty said they are also investigating — and seeking additional records from the District Attorney’s Office — concerning a theft in 2001 from the Mesa County Courthouse of unspecified physical evidence collected during the investigation of Taylor’s murder. Some of the items in Taylor’s case remain missing, with other evidence commingled with other cases, McCarty said.
Prosecutors have represented they’ve turned over all information they have about the theft.
“We find it hard to believe that, considering the seriousness of a theft from a courthouse involving physical evidence, that a couple short police reports really are the entirety of what’s available,” McCarty told the judge.