Steamboat Springs District Attorney Brett Barkey has enlisted the help of 16 residents to sit on a grand jury that will help investigate potentially difficult cases that come up during the next year.
The grand jury is composed of 12 jurors and four alternates who will serve a one-year term. Members of the jury were selected Tuesday at the Routt County Courthouse. Barkey would not say how many people were summoned to be potential members of the jury. However, all potential jurors were residents of the 14th Judicial District, which encompasses Routt, Moffat and Grand counties.
The grand jury will be able to investigate cases in each of the three counties. Jury selection was overseen by Chief Judge Michael O’Hara.
Barkey said longtime employees who have worked in the District Attorney’s Office for 30 or more years cannot remember a grand jury ever being used in the 14th Judicial District.
“I just think it’s a terrific tool that I wanted us to try to use,” Barkey said Wednesday. “I think I owe it to the community to try out this tool.”
Barkey said he doesn’t have experience working with grand juries, but members of his office consulted with the 4th Judicial District in Colorado Springs, where a grand jury is used.
Grand juries can help prosecutors investigate cases because they have the ability to subpoena documents as well as witnesses to testify in advance of a trial. Grand juries meet in secret and have the ability to indict people. They also can signal to prosecutors the strength of a particular case.
Traditionally, the Routt County District Attorney’s Office has done its own investigations and filed its own charges.
On the federal level, for example, a grand jury was used to investigate doping allegations against former seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. At the state level, prosecutors in Pennsylvania used a grand jury throughout the course of two years to call witnesses and investigate child molestation allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. In Boulder, a grand jury investigated the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in 1999, a case that was never solved.
Barkey said there was no specific case that prompted him to form a grand jury, and he wanted to be prepared should something come up.
“You don’t want to (wait to) have a fire to build the ability to respond to it,” Barkey said.
As an example, Barkey said he could foresee a grand jury being useful if there was a perceived conflict with the District Attorney’s Office investigating an incident such as a police officer using deadly force. While the grand jury meets in secret, Barkey said it would help create transparency during the investigation because members of the community were being used to investigate the incident.
“A grand jury can be a unique tool and a valuable resource in a challenging case,” Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae wrote in an email Wednesday. “I applaud our District Attorney’s Office’s work on filling a gap that may exist from time to time. The seating of a grand jury within our judicial district fills that gap, and it is nice to know we now have the resource in place should we ever need it.”
Barkey said his office will absorb the cost of the grand jury while it is tested this year. He said the cost mainly entails paying for a court reporter to record proceedings.
As with trial jurors, grand jurors are paid up to $50 per day for the first three days by their regular employer. Beginning with the fourth day of service, grand jurors can receive $50 per day from the state.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com