Blagg denied new trial over juror’s sight
Mesa County’s chief judge Tuesday denied a motion for a new trial for convicted murderer Michael Blagg, saying Blagg’s attorneys failed to show how a juror’s acknowledged vision problems deprived him of a fair trial.
Moreover, while Chief Judge David Bottger found there was misconduct during Blagg’s trial by juror Marilyn Charlesworth, her “lack of candor” on her use of anti-anxiety medication doesn’t justify another trial.
Public defenders Brian Connors and Tina Fang largely focused on Charlesworth’s vision limitations in pushing for a new trial, which was the subject of a three-day hearing in January.
“It is clear,” Bottger wrote in his ruling Tuesday, “that (Charlesworth) did not believe her vision limitations would interfere with her ability to render a fair verdict based on the evidence. Even if this belief was mistaken, she held it in good faith. “
The judge said the burden was on Blagg’s attorneys to show “actual bias” or “prejudice.”
“He has not,” Bottger concluded.
Blagg, 46, 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. After hearing 23 days of testimony, a Mesa County jury convicted Blagg of first-degree murder and several lesser counts in 2004.
In April 2005, attorneys filed a motion for a new trial that put Charlesworth’s vision at the thrust of their arguments. The motion cited passages from a notebook she kept during the trial that said, among other things, “I can’t see jack.” Referencing Blagg, she also wrote, “I have found that there is really no reason to waste my limited vision on a person who always looks the same, like a painting,” later adding, “I think I am a fare (sic) juror since I am capable of making a decision without taking into consideration Michael’s constant flat affect.”
The passage cited by the defense hurt Blagg’s argument, the judge said.
“Far from proving (Charlesworth) could not perceive the witnesses and evidence, this passage proves to the contrary,” Bottger concluded.
According to testimony, Charlesworth had been diagnosed with a condition that restricted her peripheral vision.
Blagg’s attorneys also raised the juror’s use of anti-anxiety medications, which she didn’t disclose during jury selection, as cause for a new trial. During opening statements in Blagg’s trial, then-District Attorney Frank Daniels referenced Blagg being treated for anxiety in the weeks leading up to his wife’s murder, Bottger’s ruling noted.
“(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 defendant cites no authority, and I am aware of none in Colorado, that a deliberate nondisclosure is conclusive proof of bias requiring a new trial.”
“Defendant certainly did not receive a perfect trial,” Bottger wrote in conclusion. “Nonetheless, (Charlesworth’s) lack of candor on a side issue which became a non-issue did not deprive him of a fair trial.”
Connors, a chief deputy in the appellate division of the Colorado State Public Defender’s office, said Tuesday’s ruling will “absolutely” be appealed to a higher court.
“We don’t have anything to say beyond everything that’s been said in our briefs in the court file,” Connors wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Sentinel.