By JANET ROWLAND
Colorado Appellate Judge Craig Welling hopes voters will forget about the pedophile he set free. I’m here to remind you about his role in the case, and why you should never forget.
Here’s what happened. Michael McFadden, was charged with 19 counts of sexual assault involving six children in Mesa County. Prior to his trial, a jury questionnaire was drafted by the defense, which referenced the defendant’s prior sex assault conviction.
After the questionnaire had been distributed to the jury pool, the judge noticed the reference to the prior offense and didn’t believe the defendant could receive a fair trial. That meant a new trial date would need to be set, to allow enough time to select a new jury, which would delay the trial beyond the six-month speedy-trial timeframe.
The defendant was opposed to rescheduling the trial, even though he had already waived his right to a speedy trial twice in this same case. But the judge believed the defendant was at least partially responsible for the situation, since the defense was the party which drafted the questionnaire in the first place.
So, a new trial date was set, a new jury was selected, and the defendant was convicted and sentenced to 324 years in prison.
The defendant immediately appealed, not because he didn’t get a fair trial — which is a constitutional right — but because he didn’t get a speedy trial, which is a statutory right.
And the court of appeals sided with the pedophile.
The court of appeals even acknowledged in its written opinion that Colorado Supreme Court precedent did exist to override statutory right (speedy trial) to protect constitutional rights (fair trial). Despite that acknowledgement, a three-judge panel still chose to rule in favor of the pedophile.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office asked the Colorado Supreme Court to review the case, and cited case law that “under certain circumstances, the six-month speedy trial time frame will be extended where reasonable delay is necessary to protect other fundamental constitutional rights of the defendant.”
The Attorney General also identified case law that trial courts have a “clear obligation” to protect such fundamental rights, and that “in a situation such as this, where a constitutional right comes into conflict with a statutory right, the constitutional right prevails.”
But the Colorado Supreme Court refused to even hear the petition. Cowards.
Criminal defendants have rights under the Constitution, but there’s simply no question about it, the Court of Appeals did have discretion to uphold the conviction. It is beyond my understanding why they chose not to.
So, who was involved in this egregious decision? Well, the three judges on the court of appeals who heard this appeal were Craig Welling, Jerry Jones and Dennis Graham.
Craig Welling is up for retention election this November.
Jerry Jones, unfortunately, isn’t up for retention election until 2024, but I’ll come back to remind you about him.
Dennis Graham has thankfully retired.
Now, some believe that as long as a judge follows the law, even if the outcome is unfortunate, the judge should be retained.
But this case it is very different. Some argue there were several ways to interpret the law. I agree. And that’s the point.
The Mesa County District Attorney and the Attorney General showed controlling case precedence that supported upholding the conviction and protecting the children. Judge Craig Welling chose to interpret the law in a way that protected the pedophile.
If you are as outraged as I am, you have the power to hold these judges accountable. When you fill out your ballot, look for the judges who are up for retention under the Court of Appeals, and vote no, to not retain Craig Welling.
This vote isn’t only about justice for the six kids in Mesa County who were sexually abused. It’s much bigger.
It’s about making sure all of our judges know, when they are given the discretion to protect a child or a pedophile, the people of Colorado expect our judges to always protect the children.
On behalf of all the kids in Colorado who have been victims of abuse, please, vote no to retain judge Craig Welling.
And if you want to get involved by volunteering or donating, go to JusticeForAllColorad.org
Note: Michael McFadden is currently incarcerated, awaiting federal criminal prosecution thanks to the quick action of the District Attorney, Dan Rubinstein, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Janet Rowland has been involved in child welfare and protection for more than 30 years. She’s a former two-term Mesa County commissioner who is running for the position again in this year’s election.