Attorneys differ on whether Robert Cash planned to shoot wife
January 11, 2012
Steamboat Springs — There was no dispute Wednesday morning that Robert Cash shot his wife in the back of the neck as she lay in the bed of their west Steamboat Springs home in June 2010. Where the defense and prosecution differ is in the intent of Cash's actions that day.
Wednesday was the first day of testimony in Cash's trial for attempted first-degree murder. A 12-member jury of Routt County residents will decide Cash's fate.
"There is no dispute that Rhonda Cash was shot or even that she was shot by her husband, Robert Cash," Routt County Public Defender Sheryl Uhlmann said during her opening statement at the Routt County Justice Center.
Instead, Uhlmann said jurors need to understand what happened and what Robert Cash was thinking during the incident.
"What happened here was shocking, it was tragic and it was wrong, but it absolutely was not attempted first-degree murder," Uhlmann said.
By charging Cash with attempted first-degree murder, the Routt County District Attorney's Office is trying to convince the jury that Cash's actions were premeditated.
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"The evidence will show that Robert Cash thought about what he was going to do," Routt County Chief Deputy District Attorney Rustly Prindle said to the jury. "Robert Cash wanted Rhonda Cash to die."
The trial is scheduled for seven days. Monday and Tuesday were spent selecting the jury.
On Wednesday, the prosecution described a June 11, 2010, scene in which Cash shot his wife in the back of her neck at about 6:30 a.m. while she was in bed and then asked her, "Are you gone? Are you finally gone all the way?"
"Those were his words," Prindle said.
He told jurors that Rhonda Cash pretended to be dead, holding her breath whenever her husband re-entered the room. Prindle said she was scared he would shoot her again.
But Cash's defense team insisted that he didn't plan to kill his wife.
"That bullet was a ricochet," Uhlmann said. "It was not aimed at Rhonda Cash."
Uhlmann depicted Cash as a man whose life had gone to pieces. She said he was an alcoholic who had lost his job and his house and was being divorced by the woman he loved and with whom he still was living. Cash consumed medications that may have altered his mind and possibly caused delusions, Uhlmann said.
Uhlmann also spoke to the jurors about a suicide note that Cash is thought to have written after shooting his wife and before shooting himself. Cash shot himself in the chest but survived.
"It was clearly written by someone who was impaired," Uhlmann said. "It's Bob Cash's goodbye. It's Bob Cash explaining that he cannot take this life anymore. It talks about how he's lost everything and can't stand to live anymore."
Several witnesses were called by the prosecution Wednesday, including Steamboat Springs Police Department law enforcement officials who investigated the shooting and Dr. Laura Sehnert, the Yampa Valley Medical Center emergency room doctor who treated both Rhonda and Robert Cash.
The jury also heard testimony from two of Rhonda Cash's co-workers.
Joan Ganz said she grew concerned when Robert Cash called the dental office at about 7 a.m. that June morning and left a message saying his wife would not be at work because of a migraine headache. Ganz tried calling Rhonda Cash several times. Ganz said Rhonda always would call if she was going to miss work. When she couldn't get in touch with Rhonda, Ganz called police.
"Rhonda specifically told me if she didn't call in, something might be wrong," Ganz said.
Co-worker Janet Sessions described a voicemail she received from Rhonda Cash after the shooting in which she was crying and sounded distraught and scared. The message was played for the jury.
"I took it as sheer panic," Sessions said.
If convicted of first-degree attempted murder and crime of violence, both felonies, Robert Cash could be sentenced to as many as 48 years in prison.
Longtime Steamboat Springs criminal defense attorney Charles Feldmann said Wednesday that even though Cash has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, the judge ultimately could give the jury the option of considering lesser charges.
"That's not going to be decided until all the evidence has been presented to the judge," Feldmann said.
The prosecution will continue its case Thursday.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com