Another panel of jurors was convened this week as District Attorney Will Furse prosecutes Andrew Allmon, of Cortez, on charges of child molestation.
The January trial of Allmon, 57, ended in a mistrial after a jurors failed to reach a verdict.
The new jury will consider six counts of child sexual assault involving an 8-year-old girl. The trial, which starts with jury selection on Tuesday, March, 3, is expected to last up to two weeks.
Some 400 Montezuma County residents were summoned as potential jurors. Due to media publicity garnered by the first trial and the sensitive nature of the allegations, Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker has announced that some jurors would be questioned privately in order to shield the entire pool from cross-contamination.
The court also utilized the practice of questioning jurors behind closed doors during the first trial.
Yet, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a First Amendment presumption of access to the voir dire process. In Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, for example, justices found the closure of voir dire unconstitutional, noting that the “process of selection of jurors has presumptively been a public process” throughout Anglo-American history.
President of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Steve Zansberg added that the U.S. Supreme Court had issued three rulings addressing the issue. Zansberg, who represents The Cortez Journal, said justices made it clear that the jury selection process was presumptively open, even in cases of sexual assault.
“Closure is unconstitutional,” said Zansberg.
Zansberg said that individual jurors who expressed discomfort talking about personal sexual assault could ask to be questioned privately. However, Zansberg said, the court can’t offer a blanket exception to all jurors who might have been impacted by sexual assault.
“The judge is required to use a scalpel, not a cleaver,” said Zansberg. “Most questions should be done in open court.”
Zansberg also said it is unconstitutional for the court to privately question jurors about potential bias from media publicity. He said they may be questioned outside of the presence of other jurors, but in open forum.
Inconsistency marked first trial
In closing statements to jurors during the first trial, Furse said the defendant sexually abused the alleged victim “not once, not twice, but three times.” Public defender Amy R. Smith countered in her closing statements that the parents of the alleged victim instructed the child to fabricate the allegations against her client.
According to testimony at the first trial, Allmon invited a husband and wife along with their daughters – ages 15, 13 and 8 – to live with him in April 2013 after they had been evicted. The alleged sexual assault involving the youngest girl reportedly occurred within weeks.
At the first trial, jurors heard inconsistent statements from the only eyewitness of the alleged crimes, and there was no physical evidence presented. Allmon didn’t testify.
Allmon has remained in custody under a $30,000 bond since his arrest in June 2013. He could receive a life sentence if convicted.
Allmon, a convicted sex offender from a 2008 case in New Mexico, also faces four drug-related offenses in connection to the current case. A separate jury is expected to decide those charges in May.