Suspect in murder faces drug trial first


ALAMOSA—With a 2016 murder case far from being resolved, Lonnie Cooper, 43, Alamosa, will be tried on a 2015 drug case first.

District Judge Michael Gonzales on Tuesday scheduled a five-day jury trial on Cooper’s drug case to begin November 13.

Cooper’s new attorneys requested that the drug case trail behind the murder case in which Cooper faces numerous charges related to the June 23, 2016, death of Floyd Dale McBride, 52.

However, District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen objected to delaying the 2015 drug case. She said one of the main witnesses in the case is no longer in law enforcement and other witnesses may be leaving the state, so she did not want to put the drug trial off any longer. The murder case is not even set for a hearing until June, she added.

One of Cooper’s new attorneys, Mark Walta, argued that the attorneys were new to the case and very busy, specifically with the homicide case. He added that he did not see the urgency in trying the drug case since the bulk of the witnesses were law enforcement officers.

“I am not particularly concerned about fading memories,” he said. Most of what they would testify to is contained in written reports, he said.

“I am having a difficult time understanding what is the pressing need to push this case to trial at this point,” Walta said.

He added that the homicide case is much more serious, since it involves a capital offense and even the potential for the death penalty.

Walta also shared concerns about pretrial publicity and indicated Cooper’s attorneys would be seeking a change of venue, at least in the murder case. Walta was concerned about how the publicity on the drug case might affect the homicide case.

“We have a considerable concern that the pretrial publicity associated with the drug case — and I don’t have any doubt it will get a fair amount of publicity — is going to spill over into the homicide case and is going to create great difficulty in selecting a jury in that case,” Walta said.

He said he was trying to protect Cooper’s fundamental rights to effective assistance from counsel and a fair trial.

Newmyer-Olsen said if Cooper’s attorneys argued they were too busy, the court was aware of how heavy the prosecution’s caseload is.

She added that if Cooper’s attorneys were waiting for an offer that would encompass all of his cases, that was not going to happen.

“There is not a global offer and will not be a global offer on the table,” she said.

“The people ask this go to trial.”

Judge Gonzales stated the drug case dated to September 2015 and was bound over to district court in April of last year so it has been before the court for a period of time. He said he took into account the need for the new attorneys to get on board but also was mindful of the prosecution’s argument.

“Even law enforcement memories tend to fade after a period of time, and people view things differently over time,” Judge Gonzales said.

He said he was not willing to delay the drug case for an indefinite period of time or to trail behind the homicide case, especially since the homicide case may not reach trial for some time. He said a trial in November on the drug case should give everyone plenty of time to prepare.

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