Wife-killer granted new trial
Juror in Blagg case had an agenda, judge determines
Mesa County Chief Judge David Bottger Wednesday ordered a new trial for convicted killer Michael Blagg in the 2001 death of his wife, Jennifer, while finding that a member of Blagg’s jury in 2004 deliberately misrepresented her background and had an “agenda” to sit in judgment of Blagg.
In a scathing nine-page order, Bottger said testimony last month from former juror and Grand Junction resident Marilyn Charlesworth — who suggested she’d forgotten about past instances of domestic violence when she filled out a juror questionnaire before Blagg’s trial in 2004 — wasn’t credible.
“In general, she has no credibility in the court’s eyes; (2) there is nothing to corroborate this explanation; (3) she is motivated to lie to advance her current agenda; (4) it violates my repeated admonitions to the jurors to answer the questionnaire fully, completely, thoroughly and thoughtfully; (5) I find it unbelievable that she would have simply forgotten the beer can incident, the event which precipitated her first divorce; (6) I find it equally unbelievable that she would have simply forgotten an incident involving her son, in light of her claim that violence against her children is ‘where I drew the line’; (7) her claimed memory lapse advanced her agenda at the time, to sit on this jury,” Bottger’s order reads.
The judge continued, “It is impossible to know whether the outcome of this trial would have been different if (Charlesworth) had not served on the jury. It is not defendant’s burden to show that it would have been. Rather, it is his burden to show that he was deprived of a fair trial. He has met this burden.”
Bottger also said, “It is clear beyond question that (Charlesworth) will say whatever she thinks will advance her agenda at the time.”
Blagg, 51, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for his conviction in the November 2001 murder of his wife, Jennifer, at the family’s Redlands home. Their daughter, Abby, 6, was reported missing and is presumed dead. No charges were filed in connection with her disappearance. After 23 days of testimony, a Mesa County jury in April 2004 convicted Blagg of first-degree murder after deliberation and several lesser counts.
The Daily Sentinel first reported Aug. 11 Blagg’s public defenders raised Charlesworth’s domestic violence past in a renewed motion for a new trial. It all stemmed from a speech given by Charlesworth at a public hearing of the Grand Junction City Council and she was among several local residents on April 17, 2013, seeking the resignation city councilor Rick Brainard.
“My driving force was, I was a victim of domestic violence for 10 years,” Charlesworth told councilors. “I got out. I’m not a victim, but a survivor.”
In 2004, however, Charlesworth answered “no” on a juror questionnaire in response to a question: “Have you, a family member or close friend ever been involved in domestic violence? If so, state who, when and under what circumstances…”
Interviewed in June 2013 by a Mesa County sheriff’s investigator, Charlesworth is seen on video claiming she’d lied to the council in an attempt to bolster the anti-Brainard cause.
Last month, however, Charlesworth testified before Bottger that she lied when she said she lied.
“The system had already dragged me through the mud once, and you (gesturing at prosecutors) said, ‘Never again,’” Charlesworth testified. “I was angry that not only was I about to be dragged through the mud again, but so was my entire family.”
In a 1991 petition for a restraining order, Charlesworth said her then-husband had thrown a beer can at her, striking her in the head.
That, she reasoned, wasn’t domestic violence but “being a drunken idiot.”
Charlesworth eventually testified she’d forgotten about the beer can incident, among others, until she was reminded of it in a defense filing just last month.
Her jury service, specifically admitted vision problems, came under fire in defense filings starting in 2005. Charlesworth, who testified on the issue in 2010, rejected suggestions her condition impacted her ability to evaluate evidence.
The defense also argued she didn’t disclose during jury selection her prior use of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. Prosecutors in the case noted Blagg family members were receiving treatment for anxiety in the weeks leading up to Jennifer Blagg’s murder.
Bottger issued a ruling in 2010 denying a motion for a new trial.
“(Charlesworth’s) refusal to disclose her knowledge of and experience with the anti-anxiety medication is troubling because it was deliberate,” the judge said. “However, the defense cites no authority, and I am aware of none in Colorado, that a deliberate nondisclosure is conclusive proof of bias requiring a new trial.”
The judge’s analysis changed considerably in Wednesday’s order.
“Frankly, I considered it a close question in May 2010 whether to grant defendant a new trial based on (Charlesworth’s) failure to disclose her knowledge and experience regarding anti-anxiety medication,” Bottger wrote. “Her additional, deliberate failure to disclose her domestic violence involvement makes this not a close question at all.”
District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said they’ll consult with the Colorado Attorney General about a possible appeal, but he didn’t commit to filing an appeal of Bottger’s ruling. Also unclear is whether Hautzinger’s office will pursue possible criminal charges, such as perjury, against Charlesworth.
Former Mesa County District Attorney Frank Daniels, the man who led Blagg’s prosecution in 2004, declined comment when reached about Wednesday’s ruling.
“Lies have consequences,” said Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey, who leaves office Friday to start as Colorado’s new director of public safety. “Sometimes those consequences are between the liar and the mirror, but in this case those consequences are on a scale so grand it’s hard to imagine.”
“It is hard to watch so many people, on so many levels, trying to do everything so right then have it go so wrong because of a person’s inability to be truthful,” Hilkey said.