|10/11/2019 11:32:00 AM|
Valdez to be
arraigned on first degree intentional homicide
The young man accused of causing the death of Robin Reeson in Ridgeway March 24, 2018 will be arraigned on a first degree intentional homicide charge in November and go to trial early next year.
The State Attorney General's office filed a motion that was heard by Judge William Sharp Thursday for the upgraded charge. The new charge carries a penalty of life imprisonment.
Charged with Reeson's death is Austin Valdez, 21, whose address is sealed by the court. He was already tried once in the incident on a charge of first degree reckless homicide which ended in a hung jury last February.
Soon after Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson died of a pulmonary embolism and the State Attorney General's office took over and assigned it to Attorney Amber Hahn. Jeremiah Meyer-O'Day remains the attorney for Valdez.
Thursday Valdez, Meyer-O'Day and Hahn were in court in front of Judge Sharp for a motion hearing.
The first motion Sharp heard came from Meyer-O'Day for a change of venue. Meyer-O'Day cited news reports from The Dodgeville Chronicle and social media as reasons why he feels it will be difficult to find enough impartial people to serve on a jury.
Hahn said she feels the trial should remain in Iowa County as the Reeson family is large and they plan to attend all the proceedings. Moving it to another county would cause them travel problems.
Judge Sharp said he has read the news reports and saw the social media postings. He said he feels the news reports were fair and accurate and the social media posts were neutral, as some were against Valdez and some in is favor. He feels it was a 50/50 split.
Judge Sharp then denied the motion for a change of venue.
"We were able to find a jury for the last trial and they ended up being hung," he said. "I feel we will find one this time also. I would be surprised if we couldn't find one the first day."
He then heard the motion from the State to upgrade the charge to first degree intentional homicide to which Meyer-O'Day objected. He said Valdez has already been tried once and that if the charge is upgraded Meyer-O'Day would need more time to introduce evidence that was not used at the first trial. He said a continuance would be necessary and that would keep Valdez from receiving a speedy trial.
With the original retrial scheduled for late December, Judge Sharp asked if Meyer-O'Day thought he could be ready by then. Meyer-O'Day said he could not as additional witnesses would have to be located and brought in to testify and to further complicate matters, Valdez's mother, Melanie Reeson, had a heart attack a few days ago and is hospitalized. He indicated her condition is critical.
Meyer-O'Day said he wants the jury to hear testimony from Ms. Reeson and the witnesses from their own mouths. He feels it is more impactful if the jury hears testimony first hand.
"I will have to track people down who I want to testify and who knows what Ms. Reeson's condition will be at that time," Meyer-O'Day said.
Hahn said perhaps witness and Ms. Reeson could respond via video to which Meyer-O'Day said perhaps actors could read the previous testimony from transcripts.
"Actor?" Judge Sharp asked.
"Yes," Meyer-O'Day said. "It has been done before."
Judge Sharp also said any comments about Ms. Reeson's condition would be speculation at this point.
Hahn said she is confused by what new evidence the defense would be offering.
"Character witnesses for Mr. Valdez," Meyer-O'Day said. "We would be having people testify to his non-violent nature. That was not allowed at the first trial as it was not relevant then."
Judge Sharp said the State has the legal right to file the new charge as they have a wide leeway to bring in charges. He then granted the motion to upgrade the charge to first degree intentional homicide.
Meyer-O'Day then asked to submit a motion for a continuance. There was no objection from the State.
One more matter was addressed and that was problems with a jury view as the house where the shooting took place has a sagging roof which needs repair and the owners want to have it completed before winter.
"Changing the structure of the roof will change the look of what the last jury saw," said Hahn. "It won't be the same."
While Judge Sharp feels seeing the inside of the house would help the jury with spatial recognition he understands it would not be the same and he has no jurisdiction to tell the owners to wait on repairs. He asked if the video that was shown at the first trial would suffice.
Meyer-O'Day said he has a copy of the video that he will share with the prosecuting attorney.
When asked if either the defense or the prosecution will call additional expert witnesses both said they did not expect to but Meyer-O'Day plans to request co-counsel which was not felt to be needed for the first trial.
Meyer-O'Day said he plans to call three additional witnesses and he would expect the State to call at least two. He felt the time for the additional testimony should be taken into account when deciding on the length of a new trial.
When it became time to set dates the Judge, the prosecution and the defense decided on the following:
-If it is decided to bring in additional experts the court wants to know by October 31.
-Because this will be a new charge for Valdez he will need to be arraigned again. That is set for Friday, November 22 at 9:30 a.m. Bail and booking will also be considered at that time.
-January 10 is the date set for finalizing jury instructions.
-January 23 is set aside for a Daubert Motion. A Daubert motion is a specific type of motion in limine. It is raised before or during trial, to exclude the presentation of unqualified evidence to the jury.
-A final pre-trial is set for Friday, February 7 at 9:30 a.m.
-A telephone conference will take place Friday, February 28 at 9:30 a.m.
-Jury selection will be Monday, March 6.
-The jury trial will be held March 9-13.
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