february 27, 2014 (Denverpost)
Less than a week before opening arguments are scheduled to begin in the death penalty case against an inmate who beat a corrections officer to death, prosecutors are asking the judge to eliminate several defense witnesses or postpone the trial.
More than 11 years after Edward Montour killed 23-year-old Eric Autobee, jury selection in his second trial began on Jan. 6. During jury selection, defense attorneys filed a motion asking the judge to hear new evidence they say proves Montour was wrongfully convicted in 1998 of killing his 11-week-old daughter, Taylor.
On Thursday, Douglas County District Court Judge Richard Caschette will hear arguments about Montour’s 1998 conviction, whether more than a dozen defense witnesses will be allowed to speak at trial and if the trial will be postponed.
Opening arguments are scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
Montour was serving a life sentence for her death when he beat Autobee to death in the kitchen of the Limon Correctional Facility in 2002. He plead not guilty by reason of insanity in August.
But defense attorneys filed a motion on Feb. 2, arguing that Taylor’s death was an accident, not a homicide. Montour repeatedly told authorities in 1997 that he dropped Taylor — who defense attorneys now say had an undiagnosed bone disease — as he stood up from a rocking chair.
On Tuesday, almost 17 years after Taylor’s death, the El Paso County Coroner amended the manner of death on Taylor’s death certificate from homicide to unknown. Based on the amended death certificate, defense attorneys have asked the judge to drop the death penalty against Montour.
Prosecutors filed a motion on Wednesday, asking the court to eliminate some of the defense witnesses connected to arguments about Montour’s 1998 conviction because of untimely notice, incomplete endorsements and a delay in providing the prosecution with reports. If the judge allows the witnesses to speak at trial, prosecutors are asking him to postpone the trial “for the months needed” to evaluate and respond to the experts they say the defense has been “secretly cultivating for many months.”
According to the prosecution’s motion, defense attorneys have repeatedly violated court orders without punishment by filing motions and introducing witnesses well beyond deadlines set by the judge. Repeated violations created “an intended and significant tactical disadvantage,” prosecutors argued.
Defense attorneys filed a response to the motion Thursday morning, objecting to both of the prosecution’s requests.
According to defense attorneys, prosecutors have been on notice since late 2012 that defense attorneys were investigating and would likely challenge Montour’s prior conviction.
Postponing the trial would make the jury biased and prevent Montour from receiving a fair trial, defense attorneys argue. The jury selection process would likely have to be redone.
A total of 3,500 jury summons were sent out before jury selection started in January.
Eric Autobee’s father, Bob, will be at the hearing on Thursday. Bob Autobee, who originally supported seeking the death penalty against Montour, has forgiven his son’s killer in recent years.
In past months he has become a public opponent of the death penalty.
On Wednesday, Caschette ruled that the Autobee family may not ask a jury to spare Montour the death penalty if he his convicted. He may, however, tell the jury about Montour’s character.