Glenwood Springs judge again rules on ID issues in Olivo-Tellez murder trial
Ninth District Judge John Neiley again refused Tuesday to let prosecutors present evidence of the identification card belonging to Gustavo Olivo-Tellez, accused of murdering his estranged wife, Blanca Salas-Jurado in October 2016.
The issue of Olivo-Tellez’ immigration came up earlier in the trial as a potentially prejudicial issue. Both the prosecution and the defense have been barred from presenting evidence or asking witnesses questions related to his citizenship.
The state-issued ID card is the kind that allows non-citizens to obtain drivers’ licenses in Colorado, and would be readily apparent to the jury that Olivo-Tellez might not have legal immigration status, according to the defense.
Neiley ruled Tuesday that he would not permit the state ID as evidence, as it could raise the question of immigration status that is not relevant to the prosecution’s case.
Ninth District Attorney Jeff Cheney said that the immigration status of Olivo-Tellez is not relevant, but the ID issue is because the defense team claims Olivo-Tellez always had his sometimes-girlfriend Michelle Castillo, a codefendant in the case, purchase ammunition because he had an “ID issue.”
The jury, meanwhile, saw video of Olivo-Tellez and Castillo going through a Wheat Ridge Walmart, which has since closed, to purchase ammunition a few hours before the Oct. 7, 2016 shooting of Salas.
In the surveillance video, Olivo-Tellez and Castillo are seen taking different paths to the ammunition shelves. The video showed Olivo-Tellez hanging back from Castillo while she pointed out the ammunition to store clerks and paid for the ammunition.
Prosecutors aim to prove that Olivo-Tellez was trying to avoid being seen purchasing the ammunition directly, and say that the state ID card found in his wallet may have been sufficient to make the purchase.
“We’re perpetuating, I think, an untruth to this jury by not letting them know that the defendant has an ID,” Cheney said, asking for permission to enter a photocopy of the ID card into evidence.
During pretrial hearings, Neiley ordered that no identification would be permitted as evidence because it would raise the thorny issue of his undocumented status, which could be prejudicial to the jury.
But in Castillo’s own testimony Feb. 4 and 5 – she appeared in custody serving a 16-year sentence after pleading guilty to accessory first-degree murder in the case – she said during defense counsel’s cross examination that she always bought ammunition for Olivo-Tellez’ gun because he had an “ID issue.”
The pretrial immigration stipulations “should not allow defense to misrepresent” evidence to the jury, Cheney said. He said the prosecution has no interest in raising the immigration issues, but allowing the jury to believe that Olivo-Tellez was unable to purchase ammunition due to his lack of ID was simply false.
Neiley said he didn’t want to “hamstring the defense in confronting part of [Castillo’s] testimony.” He added, “But I don’t want it to be related to the ID.”
Neiley said the ID, and the potential of his undocumented residency in the country, could cause the jury to speculate, improperly, as to the defendant’s character.
The ID card issue is not just relevant to the purchase of ammunition, but to the Friday of the shooting when Olivo-Tellez allegedly had Castillo do many things that prosecutors say indicate he was trying to avoid leaving a footprint, both before and after the shooting.
Castillo also booked a hotel room in Castillo’s name for herself and Olivo-Tellez the evening after the shooting, after asking a friend if they would book the hotel.
Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Jenness, an investigator and advisory witness for the prosecution, presented surveillance video to the jury, which had already been admitted into evidence.
Much of Jenness’ testimony, which lasted nearly all day, covered what Castillo and Olivo-Tellez did leading up to the shooting, purchasing ammunition at Walmart, and their drive to Grand Junction with stops in New Castle and Rifle to pick up beer, drop Olivo-Tellez’ Camaro at the Rifle Park-n-Ride, and visit Alpine Bank in Rifle before traveling farther west on I-70.
During a long pause as prosecutors attempted for several minutes to play a large video file off of a laptop for the jury, Judge Neiley said from the bench: “I wish I knew who invented that spinning wheel, because I would hold them in contempt.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Jenness.