Woman’s murder charges to be reduced

Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 12:19 AM

Court officials expect first-degree murder charges against a Cortez woman to be reduced to second-degree murder.

At a scheduled bond hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 9, District Court Judge Todd Plewe told Valerie Espinoza, 38, that a grand jury indicted her earlier in the week with a single count of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of 62-year-old Charles Chaves. A motion to drop the initial first-degree murder charge is expected.

“This case has a taken a different posture,” said Judge Plewe.

Judge Plewe informed Espinoza, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, that instead of a life sentence, the new lesser Class 2 felony carries an eight- to 24-year prison term, if she’s convicted. Because of the new filing of charges, Judge Plewe rescheduled the bond hearing for 11 a.m. Oct. 21.

The charges stem from a Sept. 19 stabbing on the 200 block of S. Madison Street that resulted in the victim’s death. Court records reveal the victim suffered from seven stab wounds to his upper body during the early-morning attack.

Court records reveal a roommate discovered the victim lying on his bed “gasping for air.” The roommate told police that he recovered a bloody butcher knife from the defendant before she left the scene.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, public defender Amy Smith argued that defense counsel should be present during police photo lineups. She said her presence at the lineups would allow her to better defend her client.

“This is necessary to protect Ms. Espinoza’s constitutional rights to a fair trial,” Smith argued.

District Attorney Will Furse disagreed, saying it was impractical to expect law enforcement to wait for defense counsel to drive some 50 miles from Durango to attend such photo lineups.

“The defense can question witnesses at trial about any influence law enforcement may have had on a witness during a photo identification lineup,” he said.

Judge Plewe sided with prosecutors, saying he based his ruling on the constitution rather than any inconveniences that law enforcement may encounter if the defense motion was granted.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that there is no right for defense counsel at photo lineups,” he said.