DA fights bid to move Jensen trial
A defense attorney for accused Palisade mother Heather Jensen has failed to show that media attention has created “actual prejudice” for a potential jury panel in Mesa County for Jensen’s upcoming trial, the District Attorney’s Office said in a court filing.
The filing last week was a response to a change-of-venue motion filed by Jensen’s defense. The trial is scheduled over two weeks starting on Oct. 28. Public Defender Thea Reiff on July 15 filed a request asking District Judge Valerie Robison to move Jensen’s trial away from Mesa County, characterizing eight months of pretrial publicity in the case as “massive, pervasive and prejudicial.”
Recent history suggests Jensen can get a fair trial in Mesa County, prosecutors countered.
Deputy District Attorney Carmen Rickard noted jury panels were seated locally in other high-profile cases, including the recent murder prosecutions of Jerry Nemnich and Miriam Helmick, aside from Michael Blagg’s 2004 trial.
“By contrast,” Rickard wrote, referencing the Blagg case, “the case against the defendant has received much less media attention.”
Jensen, 25, has pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide, child abuse resulting in death and false reporting in the deaths of her sons, William, 2, and Tyler, 4.
An arrest warrant affidavit alleges the boys died after overheating in their mother’s Toyota 4Runner when they were left alone by Jensen on Nov. 27, 2012, on Grand Mesa.
The venue motion was one of 13, all filed by Jensen’s defense, which are awaiting rulings from the judge. A motions hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13.
In another motion, Jensen’s defense seeks to block testimony about Jensen’s “past parenting and general character.”
Specifically, they argue, testimony about Jensen’s alleged use of prescription opiates, aside from other witnesses who described Jensen as “unemotional and disconnected” as a parent, could be prejudicial.
Such testimony shouldn’t be completely off-limits, prosecutors argued.
Prosecutors are fighting a third defense motion, which seeks to suppress information obtained by Mesa County sheriff’s investigators concerning prescriptions Jensen had through local Walmart and Walgreens pharmacies. The defense argued the information was obtained illegally, without a court order in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Prosecutors, however, argue an exception to the federal law allows law enforcement, when investigating reports of child abuse or neglect, to collect such information without a warrant or getting the permission of the prescription holder.
In yet another motion, the defense wants to restrict potential testimony from Mesa County forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kurtzman, who performed autopsies on William and Tyler Jensen.
In his written reports on the boys’ deaths, Kurtzman ruled the deaths accidental and the result of hyperthermia, or overheating.
Kurtzman, however, said in his report the act of leaving the children unattended in the vehicle was “reckless” and constituted “neglect.”
Kurtzman’s opinions shouldn’t be heard by the jury, the defense argues.
“The People,” prosecutors responded, “request that the court grant the defense motion to restrict Dr. Kurtzman’s opinions about neglect, negligence and recklessness, but only if the court ... restricts any reference to his determination that the manner of these deaths was an accident.”