Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — The pending trial of a man charged with attempted second-degree murder and other alleged offenses is set to go forward in Alamosa, as planned.
Twelfth Judicial District Judge Pattie Swift on Monday rejected the defense’s request to move Anthony Gallegos’ trial to another locale.
Deputy Public Defender Amanda Hopkins sought the change of venue on the grounds that massive, pervasive and prejudicial media coverage of the case would irreparably harm Gallegos’ right to a fair and impartial jury.
Gallegos, who stands accused of stabbing two men during an alleged July 2012 altercation, was the subject of four Valley Courier articles that were published between last summer and this month. The Pueblo Chieftain also reported on his arrest.
Additional references to the case appeared in several articles about his mother and his girlfriend, who have been accused of plotting to bail Gallegos out of jail with stolen money. (His mother, Ernestine Gallegos, pleaded guilty last December to related counts of misdemeanor theft and criminal mischief.)
Hopkins told the court that almost all of the articles pertaining to the case — if not all of them — contain extraneous information that will only serve to prejudice the jury.
In particular, she said a recent story about the defense’s motion to suppress statements that Gallegos allegedly made after the incident is especially damaging to his rights. The story, she said, paints the picture that defense counsel is trying to hide the ball, or to “be sneaky about” things.
Hopkins also took issue with media coverage of the allegations against Gallegos’ mother and his girlfriend, telling the court that they are now inextricably linked to his case.
“There is nothing that can be done at this point to separate out that information,” she said.
In a community like this one, the type of publicity that the case has generated has certainly been massive, pervasive and prejudicial, she said.
She asked the court to consider how much time the attorneys would take to question each and every member of the jury pool about their knowledge of the case.
It would ultimately be more expeditious for everyone, she argued, if the court moved the proceedings to another venue, such as Durango, Salida or Trinidad.
Judge Swift disagreed.
Certainly, it would be appropriate, she said, to spend more time questioning potential jurors during the voir dire process. And if it becomes apparent during jury selection that the pool is “infected,” the judge said she will allow the defense to renew its motion for a change of venue.
But she noted that she’s presided over a number of juries in other cases where the defendants received even more media attention.
On the other hand, the judge did not find that the combined media coverage of Gallegos’ case over the last six months was massive, pervasive and prejudicial.
In this instance, she also noted that some of the information that appeared in previous newspaper articles will not be admissible at Gallegos’ trial.
The case is currently scheduled to go trial on Feb. 26.
Between now and then, Judge Swift will review at least one more motion from the defense: a motion to dismiss the case altogether.
By RUTH HEIDE
ALAMOSA — Seeking a change of venue in the Anthony Gallegos assault case, Public Defender Amanda Hopkins called Valley Courier Circulation Manager Shasta Quintana and Courier Staff Writer Rudy Herndon to the witness stand Monday morning.
The change of venue motion was one of several pending matters before Gallegos goes to trial later this month.
During Monday’s motion hearing Hopkins asked Quintana how broad the newspaper’s circulation is in the San Luis Valley, on-line versions of the Courier and how often the newspaper is published. Quintana testified the Courier is distributed throughout the San Luis Valley Tuesday through Saturday, although the majority of the subscribers are in the Alamosa area.
Hopkins primarily questioned Herndon about where he had obtained information for the articles he had written about Gallegos. Herndon said he generally obtained information about the case from the court files at the courthouse, in addition to attending hearings in court. He estimated he had attended four or five court hearings in the Gallegos case.
Herndon testified the court files contained police records regarding the incident for which Gallegos was charged as well as motions filed in the case. He said some of the information he gathered from the court file was derived from defense motions.
He said some of the background also came from previous Courier articles written about the case before he began covering it.
Hopkins also asked Herndon about stories he had written about Gallegos’ mother who recently pleaded guilty to a charge relating to an attempt to bail her son out of jail with stolen money.
Facing a full docket on Monday, Chief District Judge Pattie Swift at one point interrupted Hopkins to urge her to focus on what was important to her motion. The judge questioned why it mattered where Herndon got his information or whether Anthony Gallegos was mentioned in articles about his mother.
The judge said she was willing to accept the stories were authentic and written by the person being questioned so if Hopkins had other questions beyond that, she could ask them.
The questioning of Herndon ended shortly afterwards.
In another matter before Judge Swift in the Gallegos case, the judge declined to accept defense motions “under seal,” which would have precluded them from the public.
Swift referred to the Arapahoe County case of James Holmes, the man held in the Aurora theater mass shooting, and said after the court there issued an order sealing the records the judge ultimately decided to make just about everything in the file public.
“That is a case where the media attention is much greater than anything that’s happening in this case,” Judge Swift said.
Swift said no basis had been given to her as to why the records in Gallegos’ case should be kept from the public, so she ruled two motions the defense had requested to be filed “under seal” would not be under seal but would be public. One other defense motion requested to be “under seal” had been placed in the public court record unintentionally, Swift said, but that would also be public.
Hopkins said her office requested the motions be filed under seal because of the subject matter contained in them. She said she had understood from the court if the defense wanted motions to be considered under seal they should be filed that way until the judge made a ruling whether they would be accepted under seal.
Judge Swift asked what authority Hopkins had to file anything under seal. Hopkins said she did not have any authority for it but was following the procedure she understood was proper to request motions be filed under seal.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Loy said if Hopkins had no authority to file motions under seal, they should not be filed under seal. He said there was not a good reason for it in this case, and the judge agreed.