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Denver DA Wants Video in Hate Trial

October 28, 1999

DENVER (AP) _ Prosecutors want to present videotaped testimony from the star witness to the slaying of a West African immigrant, a woman whose erratic behavior led a judge to overturn the conviction of another suspect in the case, a defense lawyer says.

Nathan Thill, 21, is accused of the racially motivated killing of Oumar Dia as he waited for a downtown Denver bus in 1997, and of paralyzing Jeannie VanVelkinburgh, who tried to help Dia.

Ms. VanVelkinburgh, who is paralyzed from the waist down, has been scheduled to undergo surgery for some time and it would be more convenient to interview her on videotape, prosecutor Tim Twining said in filing his motion Wednesday.

``It is clear that because of this witness’s physical infirmities, she will be unable to be present and testify at trial,″ the motion said.

Ms. VanVelkinburgh’s testimony helped convict Thill’s companion, Jeremiah Barnum, in March. But a judge overturned the conviction, saying her emotional behavior jeopardized Barnum’s right to a fair trial.

While testifying, Ms. VanVelkinburgh, 37, screamed obscenities, belched loudly, told conflicting stories and sometimes refused to answer questions.

Denver District Judge Edward Simons said her behavior was the worst he had seen during 24 years as a judge.

Public defender Kathleen Lord, who is representing Thill, would not comment on the motion.

While videotaped testimony is sometimes used in civil cases to save time and money, it is rare in a murder trial since jurors need to carefully evaluate the witnesses’ credibility, legal analyst Andrew Cohen said.

To testify by tape, witnesses have to prove it would be a hardship to testify in person, he said. Usually that means they are unable to travel to the courthouse because of doctor’s orders, he said.

Thill’s trial is to begin Monday in Pueblo, where it was moved over concerns that an impartial jury could not be seated in Denver. Pre-trial hearings are being held in Denver.

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