A jury forewoman offered a blunt assessment of prosecutors’ more than four-month effort to prove their case against a man accused of murder in the 2017 execution-style shootings of two Colorado Springs teenagers, a judge said Thursday.
“The jury felt that much of their time was wasted by the prosecution,” 4th Judicial District Judge David A. Shakes said at a hearing to schedule a new trial for Marco Garcia-Bravo. The judge said the forewoman requested that he convey that message “at the very beginning” of her comments to him at the trial’s conclusion.
Jury selection for a new trial was scheduled to begin April 7, and the judge set opening statements for April 19.
Attorneys for the defendant say they intend to file a motion asking the judge to limit evidence that can be introduced, "to perhaps address some of those issues of wasted time," said Carrie Thompson, Garcia-Bravo’s lead attorney.
The hearing came three days after the 12-person panel failed to reach unanimous verdicts on the bulk of the case against the defendant, who was accused of being one of two triggermen in the gang-related killings of 16-year-old Natalie Partida and 15-year-old Derek Greer.
The trial began in mid-September and outlasted any other in recent memory, slowed by several weeks of coronavirus-related delays. The jury deliberated for 10 days and ended in what the forewoman previously called "extreme frustration."
The panel convicted the defendant, 34, of a single count of accessory to murder — the lowest charge he faced — and acquitted him of eight other charges, including two of the first-degree murder counts against him.
But a lone holdout stood in the way of unanimous verdicts on four other counts of first-degree murder, leaving them unresolved. Colorado law permits prosecutors to file multiple first-degree murder charges for each victim, under different theories of how the crime occurred.
The split — whether for guilt or acquittal — hasn’t been made clear. Members of the panel couldn’t be reached for comment after their verdicts were announced, and attorneys on both sides say they are barred by a gag order from commenting on the case. It also wasn't revealed why the jurors felt their time had been wasted by the way the prosecution presented its case.
The case was prosecuted by Donna Billek, Deborah Pearson and Michael Fisher, who have declined to comment, citing the pending retrial. During Thursday's hearing, Chief Deputy District Attorney Margaret Vellar was the first to address the judge, though she was not part of the trial team. A spokesman for the DA's office said she appeared in her capacity as the supervisor overseeing the homicide prosecution team.
The hearing didn’t address the potential for new plea negotiations. Although prosecutors immediately requested a new trial date after Monday's partial mistrial, the District Attorney’s Office later said on Twitter that it would “determine the next steps” after evaluating the jury’s findings.
Prosecutors are still seeking interviews with panelists, according to discussions in court. The judge agreed to include contact information for the prosecution and defense in a letter to jurors thanking them for their service.
Garcia-Bravo is the last of 10 people to be prosecuted in the killings. During the lengthy trial, prosecutors laid out allegations that the killings were plotted by members of the South Side Soldados, who they said suspected that Cano-Partida supplied information to street rivals that led to back-to-back shootings at the homes of Soldados members.
The case relied in part on testimony by three co-defendants who were initially charged with first-degree murder in the case, but pleaded guilty to lesser offenses in exchange for taking the stand against the defendant. The defendant's attorneys said all of them distorted their accounts to minimize their involvement. The defense identified one of them, Joseph Rodriguez Jr., as the likely killer, arguing it was his residence that was targeted in one of the shootings that drove the abduction and murder plot. Rodriguez pleaded guilty in April 2018 to second-degree kidnapping, and faces between 16 and 32 years in prison when he is sentenced.
The defense said Garcia-Bravo wasn’t present when the teenagers were abducted from a party in Colorado Springs and driven to a remote location outside Fountain, where they were made to kneel before being shot.
In December 2018, Diego Chacon pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, admitting that he fatally shot Cano-Partida. Chacon, who was sentenced to 65 years in prison, told the judge at a hearing that he passed a pistol to the man who killed Greer but did not identify him. His plea bargain did not require him to testify, and he did not take the stand at the Garcia-Bravo trial.