Steamboat Springs The former Christian school teacher accused of sexually assaulting a boy has been set free because of a mistake made by the Routt County District Attorney's Office.
John Brothers Jr.’s nine-day trial was supposed to begin Tuesday, but it was rescheduled to May and Brothers’ bond was drastically lowered from $500,000 to a personal recognizance bond. A personal recognizance bond essentially is a promise to return to court, and Brothers did not have to put up any cash when he was released from the Routt County Jail on Jan. 9.
“It’s disappointing for sure,” Barkey said Thursday when he was asked about Brothers being released.
Brothers’ bond was reduced, and the trial was rescheduled for May following a Jan. 7 hearing, which was held to discuss legal issues leading up to the start of next week’s trial.,
According to court records, Routt County Public Defender Sheryl Uhlmann argued during the hearing that the District Attorney’s Office did not meet the deadline that requires prosecutors to supply reports from expert witnesses at least 35 days before the trial.
“The defense has to have enough time to read the report and to hire their own expert to challenge it,” Steamboat Springs Defense Attorney Kris Hammond said Thursday when asked about the law.
Hammond went on to say the resulting consequences were “really embarrassing for the DA’s office.”
The report at issue was prepared by a sexual assault expert named Jean McAllister. McAllister was not intending to speak specifically about the case during the trial. Instead, Barkey said McAllister was going to testify generally about sex assaults and how young people cope with them.
“We call it jury education,” Barkey said. “It’s really important evidence for the jury to hear.”
Barkey said he did not want to go to trial without McAllister’s testimony.
McAllister’s 12-page report outlined what she would testify to at the trial. The report was completed and emailed Oct. 14 to Routt County Chief Deputy District Attorney Rusty Prindle, who was the lead prosecutor on the case at the time. Prindle abruptly stopped working for Barkey two weeks before the report was emailed, and Prindle’s email account had not been deactivated, and his emails were not being forwarded to anyone.
“I’m responsible for not making sure his email account wasn’t closed down immediately, and it’s disappointing that this was the result for sure,” Barkey said.
After Prindle left, Assistant District Attorney Han Ng took over the Brothers case. After speaking with McAllister on Dec. 30, Ng learned McAllister had prepared a report. He got the report, and the Routt County Public Defender’s Office got their copy Jan. 2.
In a motion filed with the court Jan. 6, the Public Defender’s Office was concerned with how two other pieces of evidence were disclosed. Uhlmann wrote that the District Attorney’s Office had “engaged in a willful pattern of discovery violations in this case.” Barkey denied the accusation in his written response and called it “plainly specious.”
Because of what Uhlmann considered a pattern of violations, she asked that the case against Brothers be dismissed, the charges be reduced or the case be continued and Brothers be released on a personal recognizance bond.
With a new trial scheduled to begin May 27, Judge Shelley Hill issued a recognizance bond for Brothers during the hearing.
“We opposed it,” Barkey said.
Hill said during the hearing that she did not think prosecutors intentionally withheld the report from the defense.
Barkey said he did not participate in the hearing because he was working in Moffat County, but he discussed the case with Ng the day before. Ng appeared at the hearing by telephone because he was working in Grand County.
As a condition of being released, Hill ordered Brothers to surrender his passport and to live with his parents in Louisiana.
“Because he is not in our jurisdiction, he does not present a risk, here at least,” Barkey said Thursday.
Barkey said it would be inappropriate for him to discuss how the victim’s family took the news about Brothers being free.
Brothers also is forbidden from having contact with minors, and he cannot use drugs or alcohol.
The Routt County Sheriff’s Office handled the sex assault investigation against Brothers. Undersheriff Ray Birch wrote in an email Thursday that he was unsure if Brothers was indeed now living in Louisiana.
Brothers, a former preacher in Yampa and teacher at Heritage Christian School just west of Steamboat, is suspected of sexually assaulting one boy eight times throughout a six-week period. The boy and his father reported the incident in March 2012.
Brothers has been charged with 16 felonies and a sentence enhancer that would extend his sentence if he is found guilty. He has been in custody since he was arrested in Louisiana by the Routt County Sheriff's Office in April 2012.
In addition to the Routt County case, Brothers has been charged in Kentucky with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse related to allegations that he sexually assaulted two youths at a church where he worked as a youth minister after leaving Colorado.
That trial is on hold because of the Routt County case. Brothers was released from custody in Kentucky after posting a $5,000 bond.
The Kentucky case is set for a review in Henderson Circuit Court at 10 a.m. March 10, but it is not known if Brothers will be there.
Brothers is due back in Routt County for a court appearance May 23.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland
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