Defense argues to throw out evidence in Carbondale murder case
Photographs of the SUV that Arturo Navarrete-Portillo crashed into the back of a cattle truck just outside Carbondale last February, along with pictures of items inside the truck, were lost by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, an agent testified Monday in a hearing to dismiss the murder case against Navarrete-Portillo or, failing that, toss much of the evidence.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys concluded arguments on several motions Monday, but Judge James Boyd has not ruled on the bulk of them.
Navarrete-Portillo faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of his wife, Maria Portillo-Amaya, whom prosecutors say he killed with a machete last year in their Carbondale apartment before crashing his Toyota 4Runner in an attempted suicide.
While being transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, police say, he told medical staff he had killed his wife, and later told investigators.
Defense attorneys have filed 34 motions in the case, many of which aim to restrict prosecutors from presenting the future jury with evidence police gathered, including his statements to police and items found at his home and in his vehicle.
Much of the hearing Monday revolved around the 4Runner.
Navarrete-Portillo’s attorneys also filed a motion to dismiss the case based on destruction of evidence. Following the crash, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation “processed” the Toyota 4Runner, photographing the vehicle and evidence inside.
But those photographs were lost somewhere along the way. Joe Clayton, the CBI agent processing the vehicle, testified at the Monday hearing that the photos were lost somehow when he tried to transfer them from his camera’s memory card to his computer.
Prosecutors countered that this evidence was not intentionally deleted, and there is enough alternative evidence to “re-create” the information in the CBI’s photographs, such as earlier photos taken by Glenwood Springs police officers.
But those photographs have prompted even more objections from the defense.
The defense has filed motions to suppress evidence that investigators took from the vehicle, such as blood swabs. They say local law enforcement violated the defendant’s constitutional rights by searching the vehicle without a warrant.
Two Glenwood Springs police officers testified Monday that they photographed the impounded SUV after the crash, and the defense argued that Navarrete-Portillo’s rights had been violated because there was no search warrant for the vehicle at that point.
The officers testified that they never went inside the vehicle, that they only took photos from the outside.
The defense has also filed motions to suppress evidence found inside Navarrete-Portillo’s apartment, such as a bloody machete, his wife’s dead body and a cellphone with a photo of his wife that investigators say was taken shortly before she was killed.
Hearing that Navarrete-Portillo had admitted to killing his wife, Carbondale police did not initially have a search warrant when they entered his apartment. Deputy District Attorney Matt Barrett said that the law allows for an exception in the case when emergency aid is needed.
But Public Defender Molly Owens argued that because the defendant’s wife was already dead, she did not need emergency aid and the exception does not cover the officers’ warrantless entry and search of the home.
Yet another defense motion seeks to suppress Navarrete-Portillo’s statements to police at St. Mary’s Hospital. Public Defender Elise Myer said that he was not adequately informed of his Miranda rights to avoid self-incrimination and that investigators’ pushing him to sign a rights waiver and talk about the case amounts to “government coercion.”
Barrett said the defendant had been adamantly requesting to speak with law enforcement while he was at the hospital and said investigators were diligent in making sure Navarrete-Portillo understood his rights before talking.
The defense also argued against the prosecution using photographs and video taken by investigators at the murder scene. Investigators took hundreds of photographs at the scene, including close-up pictures of the victim’s body, said Myer. Repeated exposure to these disturbing images would prejudice the jury against Navarrete-Portillo, she said. She asked Judge Boyd to order that the images not be shown in trial, or at least that repeated images of the same scene not be allowed.
Boyd denied the motion to exclude these images altogether, but he did not make a ruling on restrictions on how the images will be presented.
Navarrete-Portillo will next be in court on March 8, during which his ex-wife will have a chance to object to the defense subpoenaing their son’s school records.
Prosecutors have said they plan to call Navarrete-Portillo’s 7-year-old son to the stand, but the court will have to hold a competency hearing to determine if the child can testify. Barrett has said in past hearings that the boy was in the same room at the time of the murder.
The son’s competency hearing, and another motions hearing, are scheduled for March 23.
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