Courier staff writer
DEL NORTE — The Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s testing facilities will remain off limits for the time being to an accused murderer’s defense team.
Rio Grande County Court Judge Patrick Hayes, Jr., on Thursday rejected a motion that sought to open the bureau’s lab or other facilities to defense experts in the Daniel Bessey case.
The 41-year-old man is currently being held on numerous charges in connection with the Feb. 13, 2012 shooting deaths of Monte Vista residents John Salazar and Sarah Beasley. Under the law, he is presumed to be innocent unless or until prosecutors can prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Deputy Public Defender Amanda Hopkins argued that her office could not offer Bessey a very effective defense if it didn’t have access to those facilities.
“(He) absolutely has a Constitutional right to these things,” Hopkins said.
She said there was no reason why “silent witnesses” could not stand by and watch analysts test evidence that police seized during their investigation of the double homicide.
“What we are asking for is non-intrusive,” Hopkins said.
But special prosecutor Jack Roth, who appeared on behalf of the district attorney’s office, said the court lacks the jurisdiction to tell the Colorado Bureau of Investigation how to do its job.
According to Roth, the bureau will not allow outside witnesses to observe its testing procedures because it believes they would destroy the integrity of the process.
Even if it did, he said the bureau would still need to perform background checks on any independent witnesses.
In addition, he noted that the Bessey case is just one of many that is now in front of the bureau.
Its staffers are currently working through a six-month backlog of cases, and they place a priority on matters that are heading directly to the trial phase, he said.
Judge Hayes ultimately ruled that the defense should have access to consumptive test results, but he denied Hopkins’ request for greater access to testing procedures in general.
He also struck down the defense’s motion to “preserve and produce” email and text messages that law enforcement officers sent each other during their investigation of the case.
Hopkins said the messages are the kinds of things that should be included in any official reports, but the judge declined to grant such a broad request.
“It is not the court’s jurisdiction to tell the police how to go about their business,” he said.
Bessey’s next court appearance is set for May 16-17, when he is scheduled to appear at a combined hearing.
The former Saguache resident has been in custody since early January, when he was arrested in Oklahoma.
According to court records, Bessey had an on-again, off-again relationship with Beasley, and is the biological father of the youngest boy who lived with Salazar at the time of the shootings.
Police first interviewed Bessey the day after officers responded to a Feb. 13, 2012 report of a double homicide at 530 Lyell St. in Monte Vista.
Eight days later, an authorized search of Bessey’s home allegedly turned up a hand-written list of detailed alibis that accounted for his whereabouts during the time in question. A Monte Vista Police sergeant reported that he also found a slightly charred gun case, along with a set of black Ruger grips and a magazine for a Ruger Mark I or II semi-automatic pistol.
The gun itself was missing from the case: Bessey reportedly owned a .22-caliber Ruger, but he claimed it was damaged during a fire several months beforehand.
However, the affidavit suggests that the discovery was important, since ballistic tests indicate the bullets that struck Salazar and Beasley could have been fired by a .22-caliber Ruger semi-automatic pistol.
During their exhaustive investigation into the murders, authorities also seized cell phone records, which they used to trace Bessey’s alleged movements in the hours immediately before and after the incident.
In addition, they pieced together records of Beasley’s cell phone activity.
Those records contradict Bessey’s account of how a key piece of evidence wound up at the couple’s home, just six feet or so from Salazar’s body, according to an affidavit and application for an arrest warrant.