ALAMOSA — District Judge Michael Gonzales on Wednesday denied a motion to exclude from trial a photograph in the vehicular homicide case against Angel Nieto, 32, whose trial is scheduled for April 9.
Nieto is accused of leaving his passenger Marcie Quintana, 24, of Alamosa to die following a January 16, 2017, crash south of Alamosa near Estrella on Highway 285.
His attorneys had filed a motion to exclude from evidence a photo shown to Dylan Morris, the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, who identified Nieto from the photo shown him at the scene.
Morris had also described Nieto to law enforcement officers after he briefly spoke with Nieto following the crash. Morris testified that Nieto asked him for a ride “to get out of here,” and Morris told Nieto he could not do that, telling him “you just hit me.”
Nieto is accused of fleeing the scene of the accident. He was arrested about a week later.
Judge Gonzales on Wednesday reviewed the testimony of those who spoke during a motions hearing last month regarding defense motions to exclude photographic evidence including a photo shown to Morris at the scene and a photo lineup shown to Morris and other witnesses several days after the accident. At the time of the January hearing the judge ruled that the photo lineup was not impermissibly suggestive, as the defense argued, and would not be excluded at trial.
He handed down a similar ruling on Wednesday concerning the single photograph.
On Wednesday, the judge recounted the events leading to the January 2017 incident. He said the crash occurred at night on icy roads with Morris and Nieto driving on opposite sides of the road until the vehicle Nieto was driving slid into Morris’ lane, and the two cars collided. After the crash Morris called 9-1-1 and waited for law enforcement.
Morris testified that Nieto asked him for a ride after the crash (and subsequently asked other people for a ride when Morris declined to give him one), and although their encounter was brief, Morris was close enough to Nieto to describe his height and appearance to law enforcement later. A tattoo above Nieto’s eyebrow particularly struck Morris, since he had not seen that before, the judge recalled from Morris’ testimony.
The judge on Wednesday also recalled the testimony during last month’s motions hearing of Colorado State Trooper Adam Jennings who upon hearing Morris’ description of the other driver and learning the other vehicle belonged to Nieto’s mother obtained an electronic photo of Nieto from the Alamosa Police Department. Trooper Jennings showed Morris the photo at the scene, and Morris told the trooper that was the person he had spoken with. Morris said the hair length was different, but he recognized the tattoos on Nieto’s neck and above his eyebrow. Trooper Jennings had testified that Morris seemed fairly certain of the identification.
Judge Gonzales referred to cases indicating that a photographic “one on one show up” like the one Trooper Jennings showed Morris after the accident was permissible for identification when crucial to an ongoing criminal investigation. The judge said there was an immediate need for identification in this case since the suspect had left the scene, and a fatality was involved.
Judge Gonzales said that although Morris was shaken up after having just been in an accident, he was clear in describing and identifying the other driver as Nieto. He had a close enough look at Nieto to both describe him and identify him from the photograph shown to him a short time after the crash, the judge noted.
Nieto faces three trials in separate cases this spring, with the vehicular homicide case scheduled for April 9. Attorneys told the judge there were few outstanding issues to be resolved before the April trial.
District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen added that the DA’s office was waiting for an official death certificate from the Alamosa County coroner, which would be shared with the defense when it is available, likely before March 5. The autopsy report has already been provided. She told the judge she would also be updating information on Colorado State Patrol Technician Garth Crowther since he has recently retired from the state patrol.