Steamboat Springs Thomas Lee Johnson, convicted in 2001 for killing Steam-boat Springs resident Lori Lyn Bases, has been awarded a new trial.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Sept. 10 to deny the state's request to reconsider a 2006 Court of Appeals decision granting Johnson a new trial. Johnson will get a new trial because of an error in the instructions given to the 12-member jury that found him guilty.
Rob McCallum, a spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch, said the Supreme Court did not make a ruling in the case, instead deciding not to hear the State Attorney General's petition for Writ of Certiorari, a document asking the Supreme Court to hear the 2006 appeal from the Colorado Court of Appeals. In Latin, certiorari means "to be informed of, or to be made certain in regard to." It is the name given to certain proceedings for re-examination of actions of a trial court, or lesser courts.
The petition came on the heels of the Court of Appeals' May 2006 decision to grant Johnson a new trial. Of the three judges who made the decision, two agreed that the jury instructions regarding self-defense were "fatally defective." One judge ruled against granting a new trial, saying the instruction was faulty but not did not warrant a new trial.
Bases was found dead at her Steamboat home May 11, 2000, after being stabbed more than 20 times in her throat, chest, back, arms and legs. An autopsy revealed that Bases bled to death.
After Johnson's arrest in 2001, prosecutors successfully argued that he killed Bases because she was interfering with one of Johnson's relationships.
Nate Strauch, a spokesman for the State Attorney General's Office, said the office has not released a statement regarding the Supreme Court's ruling in the Johnson case, and would not likely make one.
Deputy Colorado State Pub-lic Defender Ellen Eggleston, who is representing Johnson, also did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
In a letter dated Sept. 10, Eggleston told Johnson she would no longer represent him once the Supreme Court's mandate was filed in Routt County. The letter also explains to Johnson the Supreme Court's decision, and that Johnson's case will return to the district's jurisdiction.
"What that means is that you have won your direct appeal and will be going to district court for a new trial," the letter reads.
Preparing for trial
Steamboat Springs Public Safety Director J.D. Hays said the police department was aware of the possibility that Johnson would get a new trial after the Court of Appeals' 2006 decision.
"We'll go through and present the same case this time around," he said about the police department's role in the case. "Our assumption now is to locate all the witnesses that were involved in the first trial. We have to find all those different people and subpoena them."
Hays estimated the Johnson trial cost the city about $50,000.
On Tuesday, 14th Judicial District Attorney Bonnie Roe-sink said she was reluctant to discuss the case in detail to limit pretrial publicity, which prompted the original 2001 trial to be moved to Fort Collins.
Roesink said the District Attorney's Office has six months from receiving the state's mandate to retry the case. It's possible the case be tried in Steamboat Springs, she said.
Roesink said retrying murder cases is rare - almost as rare as murders in Steamboat Springs. The Bases murder was Steamboat's sixth murder since 1979.
Johnson, who is serving a life sentence without parole in Sterling, would be tried on the same charges he was convicted of, including first-degree murder, criminal trespass and criminal mischief.
McCallum said the chief judges in the 8th Judicial District, where the case was tried in 2001, and the Fourte Judicial District will be "in conversation" as to where the trial will take place.
"Together (the chief judges) will decide what is most appropriate venue, taking into account why the venue was changed from Routt County to Larimer County during the first trial," he said.
Fourteenth Judicial District Chief Judge Michael O'Hara was unavailable for comment Tuesday because he was at a conference in Grand Junction.
McCallum said he expected the judges to make that decision by the end of the week.
Bases' mother, Sherry Mesecher, said she was disappointed the Colorado Supreme Court wouldn't hear the state's petition to maintain the original conviction.
"Since Lori was the victim, we can't go out and get different counsel," she said Tuesday from her Las Vegas home. "At this point we have to let the legal system take care of it, but as a mother, it's like it happened yesterday. You never get over that."
Mesecher, who testified in the 2001 trial, said she plans to attend every hearing as the case moves forward.
"I'm more disappointed that the legal system goes out of the way looking for loopholes to get a convicted killer off," she said.
- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org