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Boulder County DA Spared Sanctions in Sex Assault Case

November 16, 2018

Rita Gutierrez-Garcia

The Boulder County District Attorney was spared further sanctions Thursday in a sexual assault case where the defense said the prosecution handed over a large piece of evidence more than six months after the initial arrest.

Boulder County District Judge Judith LaBuda ruled that, while the action was a violation, a sufficient sanction had already been imposed on the prosecution.

Juan Jose Figueroa Jr., 29, appeared Thursday in Boulder County District Court for a motions hearing. He is accused of sexually assaulting a woman he met in a local bar in November 2017, and also is named as the suspect in the disappearance of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia.

Figueroa is facing charges of first-degree assault and five counts of sexual assault in the November 2017 incident. His jury trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 10.

Longmont police have identified Figueroa as the suspect in the case of missing mother Rita Gutierrez-Garcia, who vanished in March 2018 and is now presumed dead. He has not yet been charged in the case.

In a previous motions hearing, Boulder County District Judge Thomas Mulvahill threatened to sanction the district attorney for handing the defense a 20-hour long video, taken when Longmont police transported Figueroa from Texas to Colorado, more than six months after his arrest.

At Thursday’s motions hearing, First Assistant District Attorney Katharina Booth provided the court with five clips from the video, which she said were the only pieces she would attempt to use at trial.

The defense argued that the clips shouldn’t be admitted and that the prosecution should be sanctioned for discovery violations. Public defender Sam Dunn argued that the prosecution has filed additional discovery since Oct. 30, and that the amount of information is making it difficult to build the case.

Booth argued that there was no discovery violation, as a police report summary of what is discussed in the clips was provided to the defense shortly after Figueroa’s second court appearance.

LaBuda ruled that Mulvahill did find there was a discovery violation, and declined to alter his ruling, despite the new information about the police report.

LaBuda also found that while a number of recently provided documents were not in violation, two police reports initially filed in July and August but not provided to the defense until recently were in violation.

“Whether or not it was willful on behalf of the district attorney is not considered, because the issue is whether Longmont police had them and provided them in a timely matter, and they did not,” LaBuda said.

However, she declined to issue a sanction for those violations, as there was little substantive value to the reports.

Dunn had requested that, as a sanction for the late discovery of the video, the case be dismissed or none of the statements be permitted. LaBuda ruled that the prosecution already had been sanctioned previously by Mulvahill. Mulvahill ruled that no statements from the video could be used that were not provided earlier in some other discovery, namely the police report the defense received months earlier.

LaBuda also ruled that the statements in the video did not violate Figueroa’s constitutional rights, as the defense also argued.

Longmont police Sgt. Matthew Cage testified about the trip, which also included Sgt. Sean Harper and Detective Chris Merkle. During his testimony, Cage said that the atmosphere in the car was friendly, conversational and never became aggressive. He also said that Figueroa often spontaneously talked about the case or criminal issues, like his bond, but that the officers didn’t elicit those comments from him.

LaBuda, who viewed all of the video before the hearing Thursday, said in her ruling: “I also find that there was no police conduct that would constitute even a functional equivalent of interrogation.”

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com

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