Defense attorneys for Gustavo Olivo-Tellez, 29, accused of murdering his estranged wife, Blanca Salas-Jurado, in 2016, again filed motions that the judge hearing the case recuse himself and declare a mistrial Friday, as the trial moved into its fourth day.
Ninth District Court Judge John Neiley denied all the motions during afternoon arguments, which were made without the jury present. The motions were largely similar to the defense team’s oral request for mistrial Wednesday morning, the third day of trial.
Chief defense attorney Garth McCarty, who did not speak for most of Wednesday, requested the recusals based on alleged judicial witness tampering and bias by the court against the defense. He further requested limiting instructions for the testimony of a key witness, Michelle Castillo, 26, an ex-girlfriend of Olivo-Tellez.
McCarty argued that the District Attorneys knew Castillo, who pleaded guilty to accessory murder for charges relating to the death of Salas and is serving a 16-year sentence, was untrustworthy and gave false testimony.
Castillo was with Olivo-Tellez, now 29, for most of the day of the shooting Oct. 7, 2016, except for the actual shooting at the Pinon Pines Apartments south of Glenwood Springs.
They initially charged Castillo with accessory murder, and offered a plea deal that they withdrew citing statements that were misleading or incomplete. They initially charged her with first-degree murder, and she then accepted a plea of accessory murder in December 2017.
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Despite knowing her inconsistencies, the prosecution put Castillo on the stand as a witness, McCarty said.
“This District Attorney’s office, the same one that found her not credible and untruthful, put her on the stand for this jury, knowing that she wasn’t telling the truth,” McCarty said
Further, according to McCarty, Castillo doesn’t appear to deserve a 16-year sentence for accessory for, as she testified, knowing about Salas’ death for a short time while in a Grand Junction hotel, or for making false statements to police during initial interviews.
“That wouldn’t be accessory to first-degree murder. That would not justify the plea this court accepted from her in 2017,” McCarty said.
Castillo testified Tuesday that she has obtained legal counsel to withdraw her guilty plea.
“I personally am offended by the accusation that our office suborned perjury by Ms. Castillo,” Deputy District Attorney Donald Nottingham said in response to McCarty.
He said that during Castillo’s testimony, which lasted nearly a day and a half, the prosecution pointed to many instances where Castillo’s testimony was unclear or inconsistent with previous, recorded statements.
Castillo was absolutely necessary to presenting the prosecution’s case, District Attorney Jeff Cheney said in court.
“There were three witnesses to all or some of what happened on Oct. 7. One is Michelle Castillo, one is Gustavo Olivo-Tellez, and the other is dead,” Cheney said.
McCarty also raised an issue related to a dispute over evidence where he believed Judge Neiley accused him of professional misconduct.
Neiley ruled against the defense, which argued to admit hearsay evidence from Castillo based on a theory that she could be an alternate suspect in the case. Neiley on Tuesday ruled that would be inconsistent with McCarty’s admission that Olivo-Tellez did shoot Salas, just not with the intent required for the first-degree murder charge.
Neiley said he was “a little bit troubled” McCarty would tell the jury he was not asking for mercy or excuse his client for shooting if he were going to offer an alternate suspect to the shooting.
It is often the case that someone takes offense “when none is intended,” Neiley said, and again refused to remove himself from the case.
He added that ruling on an evidentiary matter based on opening arguments did not preclude the defense from offering an alternative theory, but that he had heard no arguments from the defense that indicated they were pursuing an alternate suspect theory.
McCarty said the court’s actions did not show appreciation for “hard work and the sleepless nights” the court-appointed defense team puts in for what is “a thankless job from almost every corner of the community.”
The jury, meanwhile, heard testimony from Garfield County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were involved in the investigation, from a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent who analyzed the Salas crime scene and the Mesa County coroner who conducted an autopsy of Salas’ body.