Michael Blagg was ordered held without bail Monday before a second murder trial in his wife's death.
"I recognize that this conclusion is at odds with the statement I made at a previous hearing," Mesa County Chief Judge David Bottger wrote in a ruling he issued on Monday. "At that time, I had not done any research to learn precisely what 'proof evident or presumption great' means in Colorado. Based on the words themselves, I thought that this standard required something even more than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Obviously, I was wrong."
In conclusion, Bottger said District Attorney Pete Hautzinger demonstrated "a fair likelihood that defendant is in danger of a jury verdict of first degree murder," reciting language in a 1975 Colorado Supreme Court decision.
Hautzinger raised the same case during bond arguments on April 13. Bottger said the New Jersey Supreme Court went further in a 1983 ruling, finding "requisite danger (of conviction) exists when the trial court concludes the circumstances, if believed by the jury, could reasonably support a finding of that degree of murder."
"Even entirely circumstantial evidence may satisfy this standard," Bottger wrote in his order. "Here there is no direct evidence directly connecting defendant to his wife's death. He has not confessed, although the People contend that he came close to once, during law enforcement's final interview/interrogation on Feb. 5, 2002. No eyewitnesses to the homicide have come forward and there is no physical evidence directly linking him to this homicide."
"There is, however, substantial circumstantial evidence pointing to the defendant," the judge wrote.
Blagg, 52, was free on a $500,000 cash or surety bond before he was convicted in April 2004 of first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and theft following a six-week trial in connection with the November 2001 death of his wife, Jennifer, at the family's Redlands home. Blagg was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The judge last June ordered a new trial after finding misconduct by one jury panel member, Marilyn Charlesworth.
Bottger on Sept. 4, 2014, set bond in the case at $500,000 cash or surety, but that decision was stayed by the Colorado Supreme Court at the request of Hautzinger, who asked justices to review the decision.
The Supreme Court in January nullified Bottger's decision, finding the judge had erred by setting bond without first hearing from Jennifer Blagg's mother, Marilyn Conway, consistent with Colorado's Victim Rights Act.
In a first-of-its kind hearing in Mesa County since Hautzinger was elected in 2004, the district attorney presented a three-day summary of evidence April 13-15 in an effort to convince the judge to hold Blagg without bail before a second trial.
Colorado law says no-bond holds are allowed in capital cases if "proof is evident" and "presumption is great" that a defendant is guilty of crimes charged. Bottger had expressed doubt that evidence against Blagg rose to that level.
"Mr. Blagg and I are two of the people who went through the first trial ... My recollection (of evidence) would not support a conclusion of proof evident, presumption great, either, if I'm asked to decide," Bottger said during a Sept. 4, 2014, hearing in the case.
Monday's order from the judge had a footnote.
"In my defense, courts in at least one other state have held that something more than proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required (for no-bond hold)," the order said, pointing to a 1995 Florida decision.
Hautzinger on Monday praised Bottger for "keeping an open mind."
"I'm gratified Judge Bottger took the time to read the same cases we raised," the district attorney said.
Blagg's retrial is expect to be scheduled during his next hearing on June 15.