A juror's apparent illness again raised the specter of a mistrial Tuesday for Marco Garcia-Bravo, an alleged gunman in the 2017 execution-style killings of two Colorado Springs teenagers.
Fourth Judicial District Judge David A. Shakes suspended testimony for the rest of the week, saying the juror has been tested for coronavirus and results are expected to be announced Monday when the court returns to session.
The postponement is at least the third pandemic-related delay at Garcia-Bravo’s trial, which began in mid-September with coronavirus precautions in place.
The juror testing positive could mean other members of the jury were exposed to the virus, according to discussions in court, putting the case in jeopardy of a mistrial. The panel has four alternates, providing a buffer that could keep the case on track assuming no one else in the jury falls ill.
A mistrial would mean canceling the rest of the trial and starting over at a later date with a new jury.
The delay comes more than a week after Shakes ordered a jailed woman testify as a witness in court despite her testing positive for coronavirus three weeks earlier, incurring criticism from the woman’s attorney, who said her client was still showing symptoms that could present a danger to other court attendees. Shakes responded he was following the county’s public health guidance, and that a protective barrier was put up in front of the witness stand.
The witness, Alexandra Romero, contracted COVID-19 at the El Paso County jail amid a record-setting outbreak in which more than 800 inmates were infected.
Before adjourning court for the week Tuesday, Shakes also said a member of the jury had complained that the defendant’s mask wasn’t covering his nose.
“I do appreciate everyone’s efforts to keep this train on track,” Shakes said after noting the juror’s concern, referring to “challenges” related to bringing the case to a resolution amid Colorado’s surging infection rates.
The case was previously delayed for two weeks in November because of an unspecified COVID-19 exposure in the courtroom, and for several days earlier in the trial after a panelist awaited coronavirus test results that turned out to be negative.
Garcia-Bravo is the last of 10 defendants linked to an alleged gang plot that authorities say culminated in the deaths of 16-year-old Natalie Cano-Partida and 15-year-old Derek Greer in March 2017. Charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder, Garcia-Bravo is suspected of serving as one of two shooters who executed the pair at point-blank range along a rural road outside Fountain after they were abducted from a party in Colorado Springs.
Prosecutors have said they hope to finish the trial by Christmas, and the judge said previously in court that he is under pressure by El Paso County's chief judge and county health officials to bring the case to a conclusion.
The chief judge, Will Bain, implemented a ban on jury trials after the jail outbreak in late October, but exempted the Garcia-Bravo case.