Court reinstates charges for accused murderer
The Rifle murder trial of Michael Montgomery can proceed with the maximum charge, after the Colorado Court of Appeals last week reversed a lower court decision to drop the first-degree charge.
Montgomery, 46, is accused of murdering his son-in-law Christopher Gallegos, then 28, in March 2017, outside the latter’s apartment complex in Rifle.
Judge Denise Lynch of the 9th District Court reduced the murder charge from first-degree — which carries a minimum penalty of life in prison if the defendant is convicted — to second-degree in June, finding that prosecutors failed to base charges on evidence that was not hearsay.
However, Appellate Judge Anthony Navarro sided with the prosecutors who appealed the decision, and found the 9th District Court “applied an erroneous legal standard” in dismissing the first-degree murder charge and another charge of felony menacing, in an Oct. 18 order.
“In essence, the court required the prosecution to present nonhearsay evidence of deliberation in order to show probable cause,” Navarro wrote. Because of the erroneous standard the 9th District used at the preliminary trial, the Court of Appeals itself reviewed the evidence for bringing the first-degree murder charge and found it met the burden of proof for probable cause.
At issue is whether the prosecution had to present nonhearsay evidence for every element of the alleged crimes in order to proceed with the charges. To be convicted of first-degree murder in Colorado, the prosecution must prove that the defendant carried out the killing “after deliberation” and “with intent” to cause death.
The 9th District court decided there was not sufficient nonhearsay evidence that Montgomery acted after deliberation, and concluded after the preliminary hearing “was an impulse killing,” according to court documents.
But a preliminary hearing is not a mini-trial, Navarro said, and the prosecution had some flexibility in relying on hearsay to support the charges.
Based on an interview with Montgomery after his arrest, the appeals court found that the prosecution had nonhearsay evidence for some elements of first-degree murder to justify the charges. Montgomery admitted in the recording “that he aimed for Gallegos’s head,” supporting “an inference of intent to kill,” Navarro wrote.
The “after deliberation” element was supported by parts of the interview, as well as hinting at a motive, the appeals court ruled. Montgomery said he believed Gallegos was “no good” for his daughter, and also believed him to be cheating, Navarro wrote in summarizing the interview.
The other charge dropped by the 9th District was for felony menacing of another man at the same apartment building as Gallegos on the same evening of the killing. The appeals court reinstated that charge, saying that the 9th District applied the same erroneous standard for hearsay evidence as in the first-degree murder charge.
A review hearing for Montgomery is scheduled for Nov. 1.
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