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Murder defendant denied switch of attorneys

Arturo Navarrete-Portillo
Staff Photo |

Arturo Navarrete-Portillo, the Carbondale man accused of murdering his wife with a machete, failed Wednesday in an attempt to change his public defenders.

The case stems from Feb. 16 when, authorities say, 46-year-old Navarrete-Portillo killed his wife with a machete and soon after crashed his Toyota 4Runner into the back of a cattle trailer in what he later told authorities was an attempt to commit suicide. Emergency responders treated the incident only as a car crash until, according to his arrest affidavit, Navarrete-Portillo told a life flight crew transporting him between hospitals that he had killed his wife.

His wife, 30-year-old Maria Portillo Amaya, was later found dead in an apartment on Cooper Place in Carbondale. The coroner ruled her death from many “sharp force injuries” a homicide.



Navarrete-Portillo is charged with first-degree murder.

After closing Navarrete-Portillo’s hearing Wednesday, Judge James Boyd heard the defendant’s objections, but denied his request for new counsel. Members of the public and the prosecutors were excluded from the hearing at the request of Public Defender Elise Myer.



It’s unclear why Navarrete-Portillo wanted to change his attorneys —Myer and Public Defender Molly Owens. The record of the closed hearing was sealed.

Deputy District Attorney Matt Barrett was concerned that the request was frivolous, having seen no conflict in the case for the public defender. He ventured that the request was due to an interpersonal conflict between the defendant and his lawyers.

Not liking your attorney is not an appropriate basis for a getting a new one, he said.

And by being left in the dark, Barrett added, he couldn’t say whether the request for new counsel was valid of not.

Myer countered that it’s not the prosecutor’s job to weigh in on who represents a defendant or how that comes about. The public defender said Navarrete-Portillo should have the opportunity to state his objections to the court without the presence of the people trying to put him behind bars. The prosecutors’ presence in the hearing would have a “chilling effect” on Navarrete-Portillo’s statements, she said.

Barrett also requested that another prosecutor from his office be allowed to attend the hearing. He said that prosecutor would be walled off from the rest of the office, prohibited from sharing information about the hearing with the current prosecuting team.

But in the end, Boyd allowed no prosecutor in the closed hearing, and he decided that Myer and Owens would continue representing Naverrete-Portillo.

The defendant’s next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 21, and his trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 16.


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