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Attempted murder case changes courts

Posted: Friday, Jul 19th, 2013

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — An Alamosa County Jail inmate accused of trying to murder a detention center deputy was bound over on Friday to district court.

Alamosa County Court Judge Daniel Walzl found that there was probable cause to send Ramon E. Diego’s case on to 12th Judicial District Judge Pattie Swift, based on the testimony and evidence that prosecutors introduced.

Diego stands accused of five felony charges, including criminal attempt to commit first-degree murder, attempted escape and assault during escape, as well as first- and second-degree assault.

Deputy Public Defender Christopher Light alleged that prosecutors went overboard when they charged Diego with a majority of the offenses linked to an alleged June 12 assault on Jail Deputy Kayla Covington.

“This is a case of overcharging to the extreme, and at what point does it stop, because…”

Light never had the chance to finish his sentence, because Deputy District Attorney Mark Loy jumped in with an objection.

Loy countered that the judge had probable cause to bind the case over to Judge Swift, given the testimony that Covington and two other law enforcement officials gave at Diego’s July 19 preliminary hearing. In addition, he noted that video footage from the detention center clearly shows Diego engaged in an attack on Covington.

The deputy, who had been on the job for less than a month at the time of the alleged incident, testified that Diego sneaked up on her while she was receiving property from another inmate’s father.

“He came up behind me, placed a cloth around my neck (and) whispered, ‘tell them to let me go. Tell them to let me go,’” she testified.

Covington said she immediately engaged in a struggle with Diego, and managed to place her hands between her neck and the rolled-up length of cloth that he was gripping.

“What I saw was it kind of come over my eyes, and it was kind of tied up like a rope,” she said. “I stopped it before it got there (around my neck).”

The deputy said she feared for her life as Diego used deadly force against her.

Covington tried to defend herself — first by punching Diego in the face, and then by striking his knee — but he continued to attack her, she said.

Jail Technician Don Harrington, who was in an adjacent room at the time the alleged assault began, could hear Covington calling his name.

As soon as he saw Covington scuffling with someone, Harrington rushed into the jail’s receiving area and struck Diego’s knee, while ordering him to let Covington go. But Diego continued to hold his right arm around Covington’s neck, placing her in a headlock, Harrington said.

“It was strong enough where she couldn’t break free,” he added.

At one point, Harrington threw both of them to the floor, hoping that they might separate. But the struggle continued, he said.

It wasn’t until Cpl. Chris Westerman entered the room and began to strike Diego repeatedly with his elbow and fists that the inmate finally gave up, Harrington said.

Harrington said he first encountered Diego several days before the alleged incident.

At the time, Diego appeared to be suffering from the symptoms of drug withdrawal, and Harrington said he tried to help the inmate.

“I noticed he was in pretty bad shape, so I made sure he got (emergency room) clearance and they gave him some medications,” he said.

Light suggested that on the night of the alleged incident, Diego was simply trying to get out of jail on account of his medical condition.

“The fact is there is not even a shred of evidence to show that Mr. Diego attempted to escape,” Light said.

Nor did the prosecution introduce any testimony suggesting that Diego wanted to kill Covington, he said.

If Diego really wanted to inflict serious bodily injury on the deputy, he could have used other objects at his disposal, including a broom and buckets, Light said.

However, Loy countered that the outcome of the struggle is a credit to Covington’s training. It should not be seen as an indication that Diego was not trying to end her life, Loy said.

Judge Walzl ultimately found that there was clear probable cause to bind the case over on three of the five charges. As for the more serious charges of attempted first-degree murder and enhanced first-degree assault, the judge said the question of probable cause deserves closer scrutiny.

But that analysis, he said, goes beyond the limited scope of a preliminary hearing, when a county court judge must examine the evidence in a light that is most favorable to the prosecution.

“I’m not a jury,” he said.

Diego is scheduled to make his first appearance in front of Judge Swift on Aug. 5. He remains in custody.

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