Second-degree murder charge against bondsman likely headed to district court

Robert Thrash

False imprisonment charge still in question

ALAMOSA – A ruling in the preliminary hearing to determine if the case against Robert Thrash should be bound over to district court was postponed on Monday, due to questions the visiting judge, Judge Stephen Sletta, had related to one of the counts.

On Dec. 9, 2022, Robert Thrash, 30, was arrested by the Alamosa Police Department on the charge of murder in the second degree, a class 2 felony, and first-degree burglary, a class 3 felony, for his alleged role in the fatal shooting of Phil Lucero.

According to documents obtained from the court, in the afternoon of Dec. 8, Thrash, a bondsman, went to a residence where he knew Lucero, 28, was staying. Lucero had an active warrant for his arrest in Alamosa due to a failure to appear in court. During a physical altercation between Lucero, Thrash, and Thrash’s associate, Lucero was fatally shot.

The primary witness for the prosecution was Alamosa PD Detective Brandon Bertsch, who investigated the case. While he was on the stand, 12th Judicial District Attorney Anne Kelly took Bertsch through a series of detailed questions, chronicling the events from when officers with the Alamosa Police Department were first dispatched to the scene where a disturbance was already in progress. Shots were fired, according to the findings of Det. Bertsch’s investigation that followed, resulting in Thrash being arrested on charges.

Bertsch testified that, upon arriving at the residence, APD officers found Lucero on the floor of the living room “covered in blood,” the result of what was later determined to be “six entry wounds from five rounds” fired from — according to bullet casings found on the scene — a 9mm weapon, the same type of weapon that Thrash had in his possession. During the altercation, Weinstein, who was armed with a 40-caliber gun, had also sustained a gunshot wound to the shoulder.

Lucero was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased.

The investigation included interviews with three people who were at the scene, including a man who left a few moments after Thrash and Weinstein arrived, and two others, including the homeowner and a woman who was Lucero’s girlfriend. Again, Kelly walked Bertsch through what he had learned in his interviews with the witnesses, point by point.

As was learned in the preliminary, the DA had amended the count of first-degree burglary to false imprisonment, a second-class misdemeanor. As a result, Kelly focused attention on how Thrash entered the house, including the introduction of footage from a camera located on a house across the street from where Lucero was staying. She also asked a series of questions about what witnesses said Thrash was doing once inside.

Preliminary hearings are not trials. The judge is not to determine innocence or guilt but, instead, if the prosecution has proven that there is probable cause for the case to be “bound over” to the district court where additional legal proceedings would happen. It is common practice for the prosecution to be “favored” in preliminary hearings and for the defense to be offered the opportunity to not only challenge the charges that have been filed but to get a sense of how their arguments, should the case go to trial, be viewed by the court.

The defense cannot call witnesses in a preliminary hearing, but counsel can cross-examine the witness the prosecution asked to testify, which Selleck did in detail.

Kelly objected several times to the defense’s questioning, first citing irrelevance and then reminding the judge that the questions the defense was asking were not appropriate for a preliminary hearing but, instead, for trial.

“The purpose of a preliminary hearing is only to determine probable cause,” she said on several occasions.

In each instance, the visiting judge overruled Kelly, but did, on occasion, urge the defense to “get to the point.” 

The defense then turned attention to the charge of false imprisonment, presenting as evidence a contract that Lucero had signed, stating he gave permission to the bond company to seize and surrender him to jail should he violate the conditions of his bail.

Lucero’s signature on that contract, the defense argued, contradicted the false imprisonment charge that states a “person knowingly confines or detains another without the other's consent and without proper legal authority.” In signing the contract, the defense said Lucero gave his consent to be detained. The defense then cited case law and Colorado statute giving a bondsman legal authority to take someone into custody and return them to jail.

Kelly argued that, in signing the contract, Lucero did not give consent to be “tackled, tazed and assaulted." Citing the same case law and statute, Kelly further stated that the defense was providing a “very narrow” interpretation of the law. Thrash’s entry into the house was not legal, she said, and, as a result, everything he did inside the house in detaining Lucero was illegal, as well. 

Ultimately, the defense said that he recognized that the charge of murder in the second degree was going to be bound over to district court and had prepared Thrash for that ruling. But the charge of false imprisonment was in question.

Judge Sletta said that the issue to be considered was “not a factual one but a legal one” and he needed time to consider the law and its implications. Both Kelly and the defense were given a deadline to present case law supporting their arguments for the judge to review. It was agreed that the preliminary hearing would resume on March 27.