Mesa County D.A.’s Attack on Former Blagg Juror Featured on Denver’s 9News

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, who is ruthlessly throwing the book at a now-disabled former juror who helped convict Michael Blagg eleven years ago

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, who is ruthlessly throwing the book at a now-disabled former juror who helped convict Michael Blagg eleven years ago

9News journalist Chris Vanderveen today published an investigative news story about the beleaguered Grand Junction woman who has endured eleven years of invasive personal attacks as a result of serving on the jury that convicted Michael Blagg of murder in 2004. The piece focuses on Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, who is now piling on to the former juror’s woes by pursuing legal charges and fines against her. Vanderveen’s efforts bring the story of the Grand Junction juror’s plight to Colorado’s front range.

The piece is titled “Juror gets sued after murder conviction.”

Marilyn Charlesworth first endured ten years of attacks by Blagg’s defense attorneys, who, in repeated efforts to win Blagg a new trial, first accused her of failing to disclose a vision impairment, then of failing to disclose a prescription for a certain medication, and now finally accusing her of lying about whether or not she believed she had experienced an incident of domestic abuse over twenty years ago. Now Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger is joining Blagg’s defense in attacking against Charlesworth by charging her with contempt and threatening her with jail time, fees and fines in excess of $50,000, purportedly to pay for costs of Blagg’s first trial, like hotels and meals for expert witnesses.

Hautzinger’s legal pursuit of Charlesworth is forcing her and her husband to spend their retirement savings on legal fees, and could bankrupt the couple. The stress Charlesworth has been under has recently caused her eyesight to deteriorate further to the point where she can no longer drive or work. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s many negative articles editorials about her has turned her into a pariah locally, to the extent that she rarely leaves her house.

Why so harsh on Charlesworth? Misogyny? Politics? Smokescreen?

Hautzinger’s over-the-top pursuit of Charlesworth is raising questions locally of whether this is a possible case of misogyny, since he recently let a male juror in another case who was accused of exactly the same offense walk free with no consequences. Others think Hautzinger is disproportionately attacking Charlesworth to divert attention from former Mesa County Sheriff investigator Steve King, who was the lead investigator for Blagg’s 2004 trial. King recently pled guilty to embezzling, and a result can no longer offer credible testimony in a new Blagg trial. King is also a former State Senator and favorite of the Mesa County Republican Party, which has suffered a number of embarrassing incidents of corruption and candidates who have broken the law in recent years. Charlesworth has in the past also been an outspoken critic of longstanding Mesa County Republican institutions, like the GOP-dominated Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. Hautzinger is a Republican, so his actions could also potentially be political payback.

KUSA 9News reporter Chris Vanderveen won the Edward R. Murrow journalism award in 2011, and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Reporter of the Year Award in 2012. He and a camera operator drove out to Grand Junction from the front range and back in a single day to cover Charlesworth’s story.

Charlesworth wants to publicize her experience so citizens are aware of the dangers they face if they agree to sit on a jury, since there are no limitations on how long or intensively defense attorneys can try to get new trials for their clients by pursuing jurors who return verdicts they don’t like.

 

 

Same Crime, but Vastly Different Treatment of Two Jurors in the Mesa County Courts

Chief Deputy D.A. Dan Rubenstein, lead county DA pursuing Blagg juror (Photo Credit: CO Bar Assoc.)

Chief Deputy D.A. Dan Rubenstein, lead county DA pursuing Blagg juror (Photo Credit: CO Bar Assoc.)

If you need verification of the extent to which former juror Marilyn Charlesworth is being hung out to dry as a result of her service eleven years ago on the Blagg jury, look no further than how the District Attorney’s office handled another recent case of juror misconduct that also led to a new trial for the defendant.

To recap, Charlesworth currently has the distinction of being the most abused juror in modern U.S. history. Over the past eleven years, convicted murderer Michael Blagg’s defense team has forced her to defend herself against a number of allegations, including that while serving as a juror she withheld information from the Court about the extent of a vision problem, about a specific medication she was allegedly prescribed and, most recently, about whether she experienced an incident of domestic violence over two decades ago. The Mesa County DA has now filed contempt charges against her, is currently threatening her with 30 days jail time and fees in excess of $45,000 supposedly to pay for Blagg’s first trial. That figure includes witness travel fees, hotel expenses, expert witness fees, subpoena service, the cost of transcripts for further hearings and additional costs not yet specified. Over the eleven years since Blagg’s first trial, the Court has made public Charlesworth’s medical, employment, DMV and IRS tax records and information from them has been published in the local paper, all without her consent. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel now routinely features her name in articles about the Blagg case. Charlesworth and her husband now face thousands of dollars in legal bills for defending her from the ongoing two-pronged legal onslaught by Blagg’s defense team the Mesa County District Attorney’s office.

Contrast this with how the same D.A.’s office handled a second juror accused of the very same charge — misconduct — in another recent case, and whose actions also resulted in a convicted defendant getting a new trial.

Different Cases, Same Charge

In 2010, Rodney Eddy, a former resident of Mesa and deacon at Mesa View Bible Church, was convicted of multiple felony counts of sexual assault on a teenage girl. A jury found him guilty on four counts each of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust.

Rodney Eddy, who is going for a third trial -- the juror accused of misconduct in Eddy's case suffered no consequences

Rodney Eddy, who is going for a third trial — the juror accused of misconduct in Eddy’s case suffered no consequences for intentionally lying on a juror questionnaire

Eddy, now 73 years old, had two trials. The first ended in February, 2010 after jurors deadlocked on the charges against him. His next trial was six months later, in August of 2010. In that trial, Eddy was convicted of four counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and four more counts for a pattern of abuse. He was acquitted of eight additional charges and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.

Fast-forward to February, 2015, when the Court awarded Eddy a third trial, this time due to juror misconduct.

In a screening questionnaire given to jurors before Eddy’s second trial, one unidentified juror answered “no” to the question of whether he or any of his family members had ever been a victim of sexual abuse. He later confessed that he had, in fact, been sexually abused by a priest in Grand Junction in 1965, at age 12. He told investigators that he had lied on his questionnaire to get on the jury after he learned sexual abuse allegations were central to Eddy’s case. He told investigators he was seeking “payback” for the wrongs allegedly committed against him by the priest when he was a child.

As a result of knowingly lying on his juror questionnaire, the Eddy juror suffered no consequences whatsoever. The District Attorney didn’t file any contempt charges against him, charge him any fees or fines, didn’t threaten him with jail time or having to pay the cost of Eddy’s next trial. Also, the Daily Sentinel has refrained completely from printing the Eddy juror’s name in the paper. Instead, in articles about the misconduct, Sentinel reporters only call him “the juror” or “the man.”

All this stands in stark contrast to how Charlesworth has been treated by the DA, and in the courts and press. She stands accused of the exact same crime, but in her case, “juror misconduct” was a matter of opinion that turned on whether or not she believed she had been involved with domestic violence decades ago — a subjective decision that depends on a number of circumstances, including the definition of domestic violence in the early 1990s, the juror’s understanding of what constituted domestic violence at the time, and whether she felt victimized at the time or not. Charlesworth argued that at the time of Blagg’s trial in 2004, she did not consider herself a victim of abuse, that she got out of the relationships as soon as her partners displayed aggression and considered herself a strong and successful woman for doing so. She was forced to publicly defend the thought process that led to her answer “no” on a juror questionnaire asking whether or not she or anyone in her family had experienced domestic violence. The Court disagreed with her, and charged her with lying on her questionnaire.

So Why Such a Big Difference in Treatment?

Why there has been such a huge difference in treatment between these two jurors?

Could it be because one case involves a male juror and the other female? Or because one case involves sexual molester while the other involves a murderer? Or because one juror had a difference of opinion regarding her own life experience, while the other juror was clear that he intentionally lied to get on a jury for the purpose of exacting some sort of misplaced revenge?

It could be any or all of these, or maybe there are other reasons for the big difference, too.

Unlike the Eddy case, the Blagg case involves a very important local person with a much bigger profile in the case than Charlesworth: Former Colorado State Senator Steve King.

King now poses a huge problem for the DA’s office, one that makes Charlesworth look like small potatoes.

King was a former investigator for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), and the lead investigator on the Blagg case back in 2004.  In 2014, while running for Mesa County Sheriff, King was caught embezzling from the Mesa County Sheriff’s office and Colorado Mesa University, and was forced to drop out of the race as the Republican nominee for Mesa County Sheriff. He pled guilty to the charges, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay over $4,800 in restitution to CMU and the Sheriff’s Office.

As a result of King’s misconduct, the acting head of the Sheriff Department was forced to write a “Brady letter” about King to Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger. The letter labels King a “Brady cop,” which means that defense attorneys must be notified of the fact that King engaged in a sustained pattern of dishonesty. This letter pre-taints any of King’s testimony in Blagg’s new trial. It allows Blagg’s defense attorneys to officially question King’s integrity and seek to exclude all of his testimony from the trial. Because so much of the evidence presented at Blagg’s 2004 trial was circumstantial, this represents a huge, maybe fatal, blow to the DA’s case.

This situation seems a whole lot more harmful, and has a lot worse ramifications, than a juror who may or may not have believed she suffered an incident of domestic abuse more than 20 years ago.

A Smokescreen?

So why does one juror walk out the door unscathed while the DA carries on a full-frontal, from-all-angles attack against the other? Who wins from this attack?

It might seem like the DA is pursuing Charlesworth in order to hold someone — anyone — accountable for Blagg’s retrial, but given the cost of pursuing legal action against Charlesworth, particularly as her case now heads to the state Supreme Court, plus the additional cost the County would incur by putting her in jail, one must wonder why the DA would go to all the trouble of pursuing her to such an extent and incurring all these extra costs. The costs of pursuing Charlesworth are in addition to the cost of Blagg’a new trial, AND the cost of a third trial for Eddy. If the DA is doing it to make an example of her, it certainly is a very expensive example for all involved, including the County. It doesn’t make sense to pursue her as a source of funds for Blagg’s retrial, because Charlesworth isn’t wealthy, and is very far from being a deep pocket the County can tap for funds. They can’t attach her future earnings to pay for anything either, because her eyesight is now so bad that she cannot drive or work.

So what is the County getting out of chewing up Charlesworth like a rabid bear?

Some people think the DA’s over-the-top pursuit of Charlesworth serves some other purpose, like creating a smokescreen to divert attention from bigger and more embarrassing problems with the Blagg case, or that it is being done to help shift the focus away from other questionable local political affairs.

After all, there are a lot of other very touchy issues surrounding Steve King.

Former Colorado Rep. and GOP Mesa County Sheriff Candidate Steve King, arguably a much bigger problem for the DA's office (Photo: Wikipedia)

Former Colorado Rep. and GOP Mesa County Sheriff Candidate Steve King, arguably a much bigger problem for the DA’s office (Photo: Wikipedia)

For example, it was reported that in 2008 King was awarded a no-bid contract with Colorado Mesa University (then Mesa State College) for $17,850 for a “security audit” that is no longer on file anywhere at CMU, and that no one has been able to find. King failed to disclose the income from the contract to the state, as legislators are required to do. CMU hired King to do the audit at the same time he was serving in the state legislature, and while in the legislature, King introduced a number of bills that directly benefitted Mesa State College (now CMU), including the bill to rename the college “Colorado Mesa University.” The issue of King’s no-bid contract was touched on only briefly by local media, and not pursued.

The issues surrounding King and his involvement with CMU also point to the question of patronage hiring at CMU. In a 2007 blog in the Colorado Independent, Leslie Robinson raised the patronage job issue, calling Mesa State College “Mesa Republican College,” and pointing out that CMU has been a landing spot for many former Republican politicians and their spouses, among them former Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland, who now works on contract to the University, John Marshall (Bob Beauprez’s 2006 campaign manager) and former State Representative Gayle Berry, who, after leaving office, was hired to be Mesa State College’s lobbyist.

Add this to the many recent episodes of corruption and deeply embarrassing failures by the Mesa County GOP: Grand Junction Regional Airport Board’s fraud investigation, the debacle surrounding the arrest of 2013 GOP City Council candidate Rick Brainard, the back-stabbing of Grand Junction stalwart Bill Pitts, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce opposing the position held by almost all local business owners on Referred Measure 2B (the Riverside Parkway extension), the Chamber’s 2013 lies about how the Brady Trucking property re-zone would create “jobs and trails,” and more — and maybe the “case” against beleaguered Blagg juror Charlesworth is really helping keep the focus off all these other, far more extensive and consequential problems caused by the longtime local GOP’s political dominance and the machine they have set up across Mesa County.

Until someone explains exactly what purpose the county’s over-the-top pursuit of Charlesworth serves, we’re all left to speculate. But if we take our eyes off the DA’s efforts to string up the beleaguered Blagg juror and look around at all the deeper problems that accompany this case, maybe we’ll get the bigger picture of what we really need to see, and what we should be paying much more attention to.

RIP Former G.J. Mayor Bill Pitts, and Why Citizens Should Care About Him

Former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts

Former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts

Former Grand Junction City Councilman and Mayor Bill Pitts died this week.

Bill Pitts was a successful inventor and a non-stop, die-hard booster of our town. As a long-time private pilot, he started trying to draw the public’s attention to the corruption occurring on Grand Junction Regional Airport Board years before the FBI raided it for fraud allegations in November, 2013. He invented the magnetic plastic covers people put over their swamp cooler ceiling vents in the wintertime to keep drafts out. He started the Security Alarm Company, and a camp ground and RV park at 22 and H Roads. He started Dinosaur Days. He had a relentlessly positive view of Grand Junction, put in hundreds of hours of his own time to promote it and gave up several big job offers and promotions and sizable salary increases to be able to live here full time. Pitts left a huge legacy of accomplishments for which his family can be very proud.

But despite all his good deeds and positive accomplishments, Bill Pitts also suffered from the very worst treatment that Grand Junction’s dominant local leadership could dish out.

Stabbed in the Back by the Chamber

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce turned on Bill Pitts, their long-time member, when they put Rick Brainard up as a candidate against him in the April, 2013 City Council election. The chamber, through its secret money group the Western Colorado Business Alliance, poured over $10,000 into getting Brainard elected over Pitts. If you put the track records of the two candidates side by side, anyone could see that Bill Pitts, with his past experience, accomplishments and history, was the stand-out candidate who was far better for Grand Junction. But people listened to the chamber and elected Brainard over Pitts. Brainard’s arrest for assault four days after his election just added an exclamation mark to the horrible choice the chamber made in selecting and backing him as a candidate. The incident demonstrates yet again why the chamber is so very bad for Grand Junction. Pitts confided that he believed that prominent Grand Junction businessman, Doug Simons, owner of Enstrom Candies, who sat on the Grand Junction Regional Airport Board, was the driving force behind the GOP and Chamber’s effort to oust him from Council, believing it was done in retaliation for trying to draw attention to the fraud Pitts suspected was occurring at the Airport.

After being a die-hard booster and dues-paying member of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and the Mesa County Republican Party for over 44 years, at the May 1, 2013 City Council meeting Bill Pitts announced that he was withdrawing his memberships from both organizations.

Read the full story of how these groups stabbed him in the back, and why Pitts fled the chamber and the Mesa County GOP here.

The Worst Case of Juror Abuse in the U.S. is Right Here in Grand Junction

ServeWithFearMarilyn Charlesworth of Grand Junction, Colorado, has started a GoFundMe campaign asking for help to pay the mounting legal fees arising from her jury service of 11 years ago.

Charlesworth is the victim of the worst case of juror abuse in American history. It has dragged on for eleven years now past the time of her jury service, and has utterly ruined the life of a woman who responded to a jury summons she got in the mail, as all American citizens are required to do by law as part of their citizenship.

What is juror abuse?

Subdivision Walking Paths Lead up to Canal Banks, Beckoning Walkers/Bikers

In housing subdivisions across the Grand Valley, concrete pathways have been constructed leading up to the banks of the Grand Valley's irrigation canals, beckoning people to use the banks for non-motorized, recreational use, even though such use is technically deemed illegal

WARNING: DO NOT USE: In housing subdivisions across the Grand Valley, concrete pathways like the one running between the houses in the above photo, lead onto the banks of the Grand Valley’s irrigation canals, beckoning residents to enjoy the areas for non-motorized recreation. Oddly, despite these pathways, in 2015 recreational use of the canal banks remains technically illegal. Formally opening the canal banks to non-motorized public recreation would almost overnight create one of the most extensive, beautiful and useful off-road trail systems in the western United States. It could also be a huge tourism asset and a particular boon to Grand Junction’s urbanizing areas, where safe bikeways and pedestrian amenities like sidewalks and foot bridges over canals are still sorely lacking. 

G.J. Chamber Opposes Local Businesses Again, Appears to Be Losing Influence

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke, who turned the G.J. Chamber into a branch of the Tea Party (Photo Credit: YouTube)

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke, who turned the G.J. Chamber into a branch of the Tea Party (Photo Credit: YouTube)

In its 2015 Voter Guide, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce urged voters to approve Referred Measure 2B, which would have authorized the City to take on millions in debt to extend the Riverside Parkway along 25 Road. Almost all businesses on 25 Road strongly opposed the measure, saying the City blindsided them by failing to let them know measure even existed until it was safely scheduled to go on the ballot. The business owners opposed 2B because it would have let the city seize land fronting their businesses, and harmed their businesses by subjecting the road to an extended construction period. Curiously, the measure also would have zig-zagged the Parkway through existing business and residential areas instead of building it according to the original plan, which simply extends the existing Parkway route further west down River Road to 24 Road.

Once again, the chamber’s position on an issue was diametrically opposed to the one held by the very local businesses it claims to represent.