Despite objections from the defense, the court granted the Journal’s request to send live courtroom updates via Twitter during the trial of a convicted sex offender.
The Cortez Journal sought an exception to Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker’s 2010 administrative order banning the use of mobile devices in the courtroom on Friday, Jan. 2. That same day, Walker approved the Journal’s appeal, stipulating that live courtroom coverage doesn’t distract jurors or witnesses.
The two-week trial for Andrew Allmon, 55, of Cortez, kicked off on Monday, Jan. 5. Indicted by a Montezuma County grand jury on nine counts of child sexual assault and four drug offenses, Allmon faces life behind bars if convicted.
A 12-member jury and two alternates had yet to be selected. Some 400 residents were summoned for jury duty.
Starting Monday, the jury pool was instructed to complete a 25-question survey. That morning, Walker presided over an examination of each completed questionnaire as prosecutors and defenders determined which jurors should be quizzed in private during the jury selection process.
The aim of the individual approach is two-fold. One, it helps to ensure that a juror’s perspective about the case doesn’t influence the opinion of other jurors; and second, because of the sensitive nature of the trial, it allows attorneys to solicit candid responses from jurors without embarrassment.
Most jurors indicated they were either influenced by pretrial media publicity or were connected to other child sexual assault cases. Others revealed they had personal or professional relationships with court officials, financially supported child-advocacy efforts or knew the defendant.
Of the 400 potential jurors, about half qualified for independent questioning from attorneys. The lengthy process delayed the start of the trial until next week.
A final attempt to bar the press from providing live courtroom notifications, available on Twitter at @tcbCortez, was made before the jury-selection process starting on Monday. Public defender Amy R. Smith argued against live Twitter coverage and asked the court to limit the information that could be reported during the proceedings. Walker denied both requests.
District Court Judge Todd Plewe granted a similar Journal request last month.
In custody at the Montezuma County jail since his arrest in June 2013, Allmon allegedly committed the sexual assault after inviting a homeless family to move into his Cortez home, according to court records. A 2008 convicted sex offender, Allmon allegedly abused the youngest of three daughters, an 8-year-old, after allegedly drugging the father of the minor child with Oxycontin.