The trial of accused cop shooter Phillip Michael Amonette has been postponed until July after defense counsel claimed that evidence was not made available for their analysis in time for the Jan. 30 trial.
According to a motion entered by Public Defender Matt Morriss, representing Amonette, "Mr. Amonette moves this court to impose sanctions against the District Attorney's office for the denial of access to physical evidence in this case."
The physical evidence which Morriss is referring are two audio recorders worn by Rifle Police Officers Dewey Ryan and Garrett Duncan on Oct. 22 2010, when prosecutors say Amonette fired a handgun at the officers hitting Duncan in the chest. Duncan was wearing a protective vest at the time. The recording devices were sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Forensic Lab in Quantico, VA and were not returned by a court deadline of Dec. 22, according to the defense's motion.
According to court documents, "The FBI has been in possession of the audio recorders since defense counsel entered an appearance in this case and for well over a year total," the defense argues.
"It's true that they didn't have access to those recorders," acknowledged Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney who's prosecuting the case, "but, I don't think that we've denied access to the evidence."
Morriss argued that there is insufficient time for the defense to have an independent analysis of the recorders competed by the Jan. 30 trial date. Not being able to analyze the recorders denies Amonette's right to present a defense, his right to effectively cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, his right to effective assistance of counsel, and his right to due process and a fair trial, Morriss argues.
The motion states that this denial of access to evidence is "part of a pattern from the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office," to which Cheney responded, "I would respectfully dispute that." Cheney added that this was an isolated incident.
Cheney said that the recorders were sent to the FBI in Virginia but that the DA's office was unaware that they were still there when the motion was filed on Jan. 6, and that the DA's office was unsure of when they would be sent back.
As of Thursday morning, Cheney said that the recorders had been returned and that they should have been delivered to the Public Defender's office recently. But he could not confirm if the recorders had, in fact, been delivered.
Regardless, Cheney said that despite the absence of the recorders, the audio recordings retrieved from the devices, which is really the key evidence in the case, have been in the possession of the Public Defenders since early on in the case.
Calls seeking comment from the Public Defender's office was not returned by press deadline Thursday.
No sanctions were imposed on the DA's office but the continuance was granted to the defense. Due to the hold up, 9th Judicial District Court Judge James Boyd vacated the 10-day jury trial set to begin Monday, Jan. 30. The new trial date has been set for July 16.
Amonette is accused of firing at and striking officer Duncan, who was wearing a protective vest, after officers responded to a domestic dispute on Oct. 22, 2010. Consequently, Amonette was shot four times and spent 51 days in the hospital recovering from his wounds. He remains incarcerated in the Garfield County Jail awaiting trial for first-degree attempted murder.