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Tempers flare at Redwine trial over background checks on potential jurors

Attorneys engage in heated exchange
Jury selection in the trial for Mark Redwine is expected to take seven days to sift through more than 2,600 people to serve on the 12-person jury. This photo was taken Aug. 15, 2017, during an advisement and bail hearing.

The trial for Mark Redwine experienced unexpected drama Friday when attorneys argued over background checks performed on potential jurors.

Redwine’s trial began Thursday with jury selection, a process that is expected to take a week to sift through 2,625 people who were summoned to serve on the 12-person jury with two alternates in the highly publicized case.

Redwine is accused of killing his 13-year-old son, Dylan, in 2012.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, potential jurors are being brought to the courthouse in waves throughout the day.

At Friday’s 8 a.m. session, Redwine’s public defender, John Moran, raised concerns about a document with background histories of potential jurors he was just provided by prosecutors with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

John Moran, a public defender representing Mark Redwine, during a court hearing Aug. 15, 2017, for Mark Redwine.

Moran said the document included “extremely private information” on 1,094 people who were called for jury duty, such as if the person had a history of child abuse, sex abuse, drug use or had attempted suicide.

“This rises to the level of outrageous governmental conduct,” Moran said. “It is illegal for them to have taken this information in the first place ... it is criminal, your honor.”

Moran also took issue that it remains unknown how long the District Attorney’s Office had the document before providing it to the defense, which he said gave prosecutors an advantage in court.

District Judge Jeffery Wilson ended the discussion Friday morning because it was in front of potential jurors. The court reconvened later, outside the presence of potential jurors.

At that session, as Moran continued with concerns about the document, District Attorney Christian Champagne broke in.

“These allegations are so outrageous, and so over the top, I can’t hold my tongue your honor,” Champagne said.

Wilson responded: “Well, you’re going to hold your tongue.”

District Attorney Christian Champagne during a bail hearing Aug. 15, 2017, in Durango.

When it was his turn to speak, Champagne said the allegations made against the DA’s Office were “wild and reckless.”

“To cast such an aspersion, I think it’s unethical, I think Mr. Moran should be personally sanctioned,” Champagne said. “He knows better, and ... he’s using this streaming platform to prejudice this community.”

Jury selection is being streamed on a web-based platform.

Champagne said the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, on its own accord and without request from the District Attorney’s Office, conducted the background checks and compiled the document “to be helpful in the jury selection process.”

“When we were made aware of it, we immediately released (it to the defense),” Champagne said.

Champagne said the information in the background checks was taken from the “Record Management Services” program, an internal record-keeping program within the Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s nothing wrong with anything that’s happened by looking at these records and proactively giving it to the defense,” he said.

Sixth District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey R. Wilson, listens during a 2017 hearing for Mark Redwine at the La Plata County Courthouse.

Wilson called the whole matter a “big ado about next to nothing.”

“We’re done for the day on this issue,” he said. “I just don’t see it being an issue.”

At the end of the court hearing, Moran and Champagne engaged in a heated exchange.

Moran asked Champagne to name the specific ethical violation he violated, in reference to Champagne’s earlier claim that Moran was possibly in violation of the attorney ethics.

“I’m done, I have nothing to say to you. I don’t want to hear you talk,” Champagne responded.

“Follow the law,” Moran quipped back.

Christopher Mueller, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, who has been teaching law for 50 years, said he’s never heard of a sheriff’s office taking it upon itself to compile background checks on potential jurors, let alone a list of more than 1,000 people.

“That’s pretty extraordinary,” he said.

In jury selection, both the prosecution and the defense are looking for people who may be sympathetic to their case, Mueller said. For example: If a juror is married to someone in law enforcement, perhaps that person is more likely to side with the prosecution.

So, knowing as much as possible about potential jurors is incredibly important, Mueller said, and attorneys will even go so far as to pay private companies to look for as much information as possible.

“Both sides would love to know about the history of anyone on the jury,” he said.

Still, Mueller said it’s unusual for a sheriff’s office to do its own research, and he questioned the exact contents of the information on the background checks, and whether it was more slanted to help the prosecution.

“Then the defense does have something powerful to complain about,” he said.

The document is not available to the public. Sheriff Sean Smith referred all questions to La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham, who declined to comment about specifics of the situation, saying it could impact the trial.

Ultimately, background checks on potential jurors are not illegal, Mueller said, and Friday’s flare-up at trial was likely the defense trying to make noise and claim something was done wrong in the process to garner sympathy.

Mueller said defense attorneys are always looking for ways to detract from a case or cause a mistrial, because the more expensive you can make it for prosecutors, the more likely you are to reach a favorable plea deal or compromise.

“Anything a defense can do to throw a monkey wrench in a proceeding going forward, they’re going to do it,” he said.

It’s unclear if the issue in the Redwine trial will go any further. No formal motions were filed as of Friday afternoon. Champagne and Wilson both declined to comment.


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