February 2, 2002
by Aspen C. Emmett
In preparation for the trial of a Farmington man accused of killing a gay Cortez teen, District Attorney Joe Olt and public defender Pamela Brown sorted through scores of potential juror questions and presented arguments on a number of motions Wednesday.
Shaun Murphy, 18, is accused of killing 16-year-old Fred Martinez Jr. by beating him with a rock. As the trial draws closer, both the prosecution and defense are gearing up for a courtroom drama in which as many as 100 witnesses could testify.
The trial, scheduled to begin one month from Monday, is expected to last at least two weeks.
Martinez, who was openly gay or transgendered, is believed to have died on June 16. His badly decomposing body was found south of Cortez on June 21, and Murphy was arrested in July following a Crimestoppers tip that he had bragged he had "beat up a fag."
Murphy, who has pleaded not guilty, is being held on $500,000 bail in Montezuma County Jail on first- and second-degree murder charges. The defense is not seeking the death penalty in the case.
On Wednesday, a prosecution motion to take jurors to the murder scene during the trial was swiftly denied by District Court Judge Sharon Hansen.
Olt told the court that it was imperative for jurors to see the scene where Martinez’s body lay partially hidden by rocks and shrubbery, preventing its discovery for nearly a week following his death.
However, Brown objected, stating that the scene had likely altered with the passage of time, diminishing its validity and accuracy.
"The defense would prefer a diagram," Brown insisted. "Photos and testimony will be good in conveying the scene (as it was)."
In denying the motion, Hansen expressed concerns that the jury could be subjected to outside influences such as the press and bystanders if taken out of the courtroom. Additionally, there were questions about how the court reporter could record the proceedings.
Some of Brown’s comments Wednesday indicated that the defense is going to press the prosecution on the exact time and cause of Martinez’s death
An autopsy report suggested that Martinez had been bludgeoned with a rock, but the coroner told the Journal last summer that there was no conclusive evidence as to what exactly had caused Martinez’s death nor when exactly he died. Ninety-degree temperatures combined with exposure, extreme blood loss, a fractured skull and various "natural elements" were listed in the report as contributing factors.
During a preliminary hearing last fall, Murphy’s defense attorney, Brown, told the court that Murphy had indeed confessed to striking Martinez with a rock in self-defense but maintained the boy was "still very much alive" when Murphy left him.
Also on Wednesday, Hansen stated that she will be issuing a written ruling concerning a defense motion to suppress two key interviews with Murphy shortly after he was apprehended on a parole violation in Aztec, N.M.
The defense contends that Murphy was not properly "Mirandized" when he spoke to two detectives from Cortez on July 3 and 5, thus making all of his statements in the interviews inadmissible for trial.
Brown told the court that Murphy, who had just turned 18, had been deceived by the detectives because they "promised" he was not being charged with a crime. She said his willingness to talk in the absence of an attorney was the result of false assumptions.
"There certainly was an implication of promise. . . that he would not be charged or pinned with anything," Brown argued.
But Cortez Police Detective Jim Bob Wynes testified Wednesday that Murphy had knowingly waived his rights to an attorney and made all of his statements voluntarily following a formal reading of his Miranda rights during both interviews. The detective explained that any "promise" made to Murphy would have been that he was not being charged with a crime at that particular time — not that charges wouldn’t follow in the future.
Wynes contended that Murphy, though young, was not naive about his rights because of extensive contact with the law as a juvenile.
"I’ve had a lot of contact with him (over the years) with his friends, his mom, him, his brother — even his dogs that bark at me every time I’d come to his house," he said.
Olt reiterated that the current case was not a first for Murphy, who had been released from a juvenile facility just prior to the alleged murder.
"Mr. Murphy knows the judicial system and Mr. Murphy knows law enforcement," Olt insisted. "There was no coercion, promises, force or threats."
The case has captured state and national attention, largely because of the possibility that Martinez was the victim of a hate crime. Gay and lesbian advocates are keeping a close eye on the judicial proceedings.
Court officials have speculated that the trial "will be a circus" because of the case’s high-profile status.
Murphy’s next court appearance is scheduled for Friday, when the court will address other motions that have been filed in the case.