A state judge is considering dismissing a capital murder case after prosecutors admitted to mishandling the case and defense lawyers claim the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office officials are abusing their power.
In a nearly four-hour hearing Monday, 210th District Court Judge Alyssa Perez did not make a ruling on a motion by defense lawyers to dismiss a capital murder case due to “prosecutorial vindictiveness.”
The motion claims the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty against Ivan Gabaldon, who is accused of fatally stabbing a man earlier this year, because he is seeking his constitution right to a speedy trial as prosecutors attempt to delay the case because of mishandling it.
A decision is expected Dec. 13 or 14, because Perez said she did not want to rush the decision and wanted to hear all legal arguments over the case.
However, Perez said during the hearing that she found the arguments made and actions taken by the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office in the case “troubling.”
The ruling will come after several weeks of contentious hearings in the case.
Gabaldon was arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the Feb. 22 stabbing death of 63-year-old Juan Garcia Flores during an alleged sexual encounter for money in a building on Texas Avenue near Downtown El Paso.
Defense lawyers Denise Butterworth and Omar Carmona have argued Gabaldon acted in self-defense.
A gag order issued in the case prevents prosecutors and defense lawyers from commenting on it.
Gabaldon was originally scheduled to go to trial Dec. 2. Defense lawyers said they were ready to go to trial, but state prosecutors requested a motion to delay the trial.
The motion was denied Nov. 19 by Perez, but the trial was then pushed back Monday because of the new motion filed by defense lawyers requesting the charge against their client be dismissed.
The new tentative trial date is Jan. 14.
The actions Perez found “troubling” included El Paso County District Attorney’s Office Senior Division Chief Curtis Cox admitting during a Nov. 16 hearing that the DA’s Office mishandled the case and offering to release Gabaldon from jail while awaiting trial. However, prosecutors then 72 hours later – Nov. 19 - changed their arguments claiming Gabaldon committed a “heinous” crime and they were considering seek the death penalty.
Cox and state prosecutor Scott Ferguson said several prosecutors had been handed the case, although no work was done on it until it was handed to them weeks before the case was set for trial.
The El Paso County District Attorney’s Office filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty Nov. 22.
Cox argued during Monday’s hearing that the serious nature of the crime and Gabaldon's danger to the community were not related. He also claimed the crime was possibly a hate crime since the victim was allegedly homosexual.
"I think we all know that a defendant being released from jail is not an admission of lack of dangerousness because we have defendants who are on surety bonds, who if they post the bond or a bondsmen fee, they are released regardless of how dangerous they might be," Cox said. "And that was also part of my consideration. This defendant being released from jail is not a statement that he is not dangerous. It is a statement that he has satisfied the conditions that have been placed upon him."
He said the evidence in the case showed that the crime “was targeted and premeditated that shows a high level of intellectual capacity and functioning, and therefore the ability of this defendant to conform his behavior while he is out on a PR bond."
Cox said he believed the PR bond was acceptable because Gabaldon would follow instructions from his lawyers to stay out of trouble.
Perez responded that she did not see how prosecutors argue for seeking the death penalty but at the time feel it was acceptable to offer a PR bond.
"That's very troubling,” Judge Perez said. “That is very troubling for me to get my head around because it is, I understand, how on the one hand you are acknowledging, I guess, the difficulties the state had in diligently prosecuting the case to be ready for trial.”
She continued, “But I simply can't get what thought process would get me to the point where I would say 'well, yeah, we understand,' especially with the indication that you would be seeking a potential re-indictment and potentially seeking the death penalty, but 'we think he can follow PR bond conditions, Judge, if you let him out on the straight PR bond.'"
Perez said she could not "understand the thought process behind saying, 'we're okay with letting him out on PR bond' because basically you weren't ready for trial."
Cox replied, "That is my outlook on things. Some people may understand that. Others may not. I'm not asking you to wrap your head around that or not. That is simply my reasoning at that time. It has been my reasoning pretty much all of my career as a prosecutor."
Butterworth argued during Monday’s hearing the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office is abusing their power by threatening the death penalty against her client because they are attempting to buy time since they are unprepared to go to trial.
"That is what allows the court to find that there is prosecutorial vindictiveness," Butterworth said during Monday's hearing. "It flies in the face of logic. It flies in the face of any kind of reason and common sense. And the statement was made by Mr. Cox at the very beginning of that motion for continuance, it was made then, because it was a desperate attempt to get the case delayed and that is exactly what continues to keep happening here in this case."
The lack of preparedness of the DA’s office is punishing her client and violating his constitutional right to a speedy trial, Butterworth argued.
"I can tell you that there will not be an argument ever that can be had by the state that it is my client's fault," she said. "And that is critical to this motion that we have filed. It is not Mr. Gabaldon, as he sits there and has been sitting there in his cell waiting for trial. This is certainly not his fault. It is the fault as a whole of the DA's office.”
She continued, “But the argument that the DA's office is making is that they should get this reset button because Mr. Cox came into this late, that's their argument, but that's not how the law works and they don't get that reset button."
However, Cox now stated prosecutors are prepared to go to trial.
State prosecutors have until Dec. 3 to file arguments related to the motion to dismiss, while defense lawyers have until Dec. 10 to file a response to any arguments made by prosecutors.
A hearing will be held Dec. 13 where Judge Perez could make a ruling or hear further arguments. If more arguments are made at the Dec. 13 hearing, she would then make a ruling Dec. 14.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Judge considers dismissing El Paso capital murder case involving fatal stabbing