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COVID ends Dove Creek trial of man accused of fatally shooting bowhunter

22nd Judicial Districe Attorney Matt Margeson gives opening statements to a jury in Dove Creek in a case involving a muzzleloader hunter who fatally shot a bow hunter Sept. 17 in the San Juan National Forest. (WebEx screenshot)
Three jurors affected; Morosko could be retried within 90 days

A mistrial has been declared in the Ronald Morosko homicide case in Dove Creek because of COVID-19 outbreak in the courtroom involving three jurors.

Chief Judge Todd Plewe ordered the mistrial Monday morning, said District Attorney Matt Margeson.

Morosko faces charges of criminally negligent homicide and hunting in a careless manner in the shooting death of archery hunter Gregory Gabrisch. He has pleaded not guilty.

The shooting occurred as both men hunted elk during overlapping muzzleloading and archery seasons Sept. 17, 2021, near the Kilpacker Trail in the San Juan National Forest northeast of Dolores.

Ronald J. Morosko of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania
A hunting death trial is taking place in Dove Creek this week. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

Three jurors had been excused because of their positive coronavirus diagnoses, Margeson said. Options included pausing the trial, continuing with 10 jurors, or a mistrial.

Margeson said he was not in favor of pausing the trial because of the potential for the jurors to hear opinions about the case or be exposed to media coverage that could prejudice the defendant.

The defense made a motion for a mistrial citing the lack of jurors, which was granted by Plewe.

The problem began when one juror did not show up Friday because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, Margeson said.

The 13-member jury includes one alternate, so that person was excused, and the trial continued with the required 12 jurors.

On Monday morning, a second juror did not attend citing a positive coronavirus test. Upon arrival to court, third juror reported feeling unwell and subsequently tested positive.

Defense made a motion for a mistrial, which was granted by Plewe. The remaining jurors were released from service.

“The People understand the court’s decision to declare a mistrial based on health concerns,” Margeson said in a statement. “We thank our jurors and all involved for their time and attention. Parties will be reconvening in November to discuss next steps.”

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An attorney and two court staff also were absent Monday because of the illness, Margeson said.

The coronavirus outbreak among jurors and court staff was discussed in open court, he said. The identities of those affected were not available.

The DA has the option to retry the case within 90 days. No formal decision has been made pending discussions with the victim’s family, Margeson said. A new jury will be selected if the case goes forward.

A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8 at 3 p.m. in Dolores County Court for parties to further to discuss the fate of the case.

“The charges still exist, so a decision will be made whether to retry on outstanding charges,” Margeson said.

Jury selection for the trial took place Oct. 24-25. The trial began Wednesday and was expected to last until Tuesday.

The prosecution rested its case Thursday. Defense presented its case Friday, but was cut short Monday by the mistrial.