Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs The expression "justice delayed is justice denied" is a cliche, but it's nonetheless proving true with the glacial pace of the prosecution of Eduardo and David Capote for their suspected roles in the Jan. 2, 2009, death of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Although it's galling that 14th Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham charged the Capotes with only assault instead of manslaughter or murder - as the police suggested and every right-minded person knows was appropriate - the failure of Routt County Judge James Garrecht to keep this case moving forward adds insult to death.
The key dates in the history of the Lopez case are:
- Jan. 2, 2009: The Capotes are suspected of fighting with Lopez and two of his friends at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue. Lopez suffers severe head trauma from hitting his head on the pavement and is unconscious when taken by ambulance to the hospital.
- Jan. 5: Lopez dies from his injuries.
- Feb. 18: District Attorney Oldham receives the case from police after a seven-week investigation.
- March 23: Oldham files assault charges against the Capotes after reviewing the police investigation for five weeks.
- June 24: David Capote appears before Judge Garrecht, but his case is delayed until July 15 to allow more time for Capote's attorney, Charles Feldmann, to conduct discovery. Garrecht raises the issue of combining David and Eduardo Capote's cases into one trial with Feldmann (who represents both of the Capote brothers) and prosecutors.
- July 2: Garrecht delays Eduardo Capote's case until Aug. 7 to allow more time for Feldman to conduct discovery.
- July 15: Garrecht again delays David Capote's case, this time until Aug. 7. Garrecht again discusses combining the Capote brothers' cases but makes no decision.
Given that the next court date for the Capote brothers is Aug. 7, it will be more than eight months since Lopez lay dying on a cold Steamboat street before the Capotes are even in the starting blocks in Garrecht's courtroom.
That is unconscionable.
The Steamboat Springs Police Department worked diligently and appropriately in conducting a seven-week investigation spanning thousands of miles and interviewing dozens of witnesses in order to gather evidence to present to the District Attorney's Office.
For Oldham to take five weeks to review the police investigation and determine what charges to file is mind-boggling. But what is really troubling is Garrecht's inability to move this case any further than he has in the almost five months between when the Capotes were charged and when they will next appear in court.
Five months, and Garrecht hasn't even decided whether to combine the Capotes' cases into one trial - typically regarded as a no-brainer decision in legal circles.
As reported by the Steamboat Today, Oldham argued before Garrecht during Wednesday's hearing that combining the cases would be appropriate because they are part of the same incident and involve similar evidence and many of the same witnesses, some who are serving in the military overseas.
Oldham is correct in that assessment.
Frankly, this is not a difficult case as criminal cases go. But, it is witness-intensive, and the defense knows it. Therefore, the longer the Capotes can delay the proceedings, the harder it will be for the prosecution to bring its witnesses to trial and the foggier the witnesses' memories will be if and when they get to trial.
Therein lies the truth that justice delayed is indeed justice denied.
The Capote brothers' goal is to delay this case in an effort to deny justice.
It is time that Judge Garrecht ensures that justice is not denied because of delay.