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Area law enforcement back from London

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Two prosecutors and two Garfield County Sheriff’s Office detectives returned home late last week after being stranded in London for five days.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Cheney, Commander Bill Middleton and Detective Eric Ashworth were among thousands of travelers stranded as airports across Europe were closed after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland. Strong winds carried volcanic ash and dust particles over much of Europe, closing most major airports for close to six days.

“We got a flight out Friday afternoon,” Beeson said. “We were feverishly trying to find a way to get out.”

Beeson and Cheney appeared in a Garfield County courtroom Monday for a brief status conference in the Heath Johnston murder trial. That case was continued to later this week.

Beeson had said that he and Cheney were initially scheduled to depart London on April 17, but the airport closures pushed back their return flight to Sunday. A stroke of luck granted the two earlier flights, and they were able to return home, on a nine-hour flight that took them through Los Angeles, on Friday.

It was unclear as to when the two sheriff’s officers returned. Calls made about their travel arrangements were not returned Monday. Sheriff’s office spokesman Phil Strouse confirmed last week that the two detectives were able to secure flights for Sunday.

“It’s not the trip that we had planned,” Beeson said Monday, but he called it a successful trip despite the travel delays.

He and Cheney traveled to London to conduct interviews with five witnesses and to be present at the extradition hearing in the case of accused Western Slope murder suspect Marcus Bebb-Jones, 46.

Beeson said that he and Cheney were able to interview four of the five potential witnesses, two of which Beeson said were “critical” to the prosecution of the case.

Bebb-Jones is accused of murdering his wife, Sabrina, and dumping her body near Douglas Pass in rural western Garfield County, north of Grand Junction. The couple owned the Hotel Melrose in Grand Junction before Sabrina’s disappearance in 1997. Her skull was found by a rancher in 2004.

A London district court judge approved the extradition of Bebb-Jones to the United States, however, the actual extradition order will have to come from the Home Secretary in England. Extradition could take more than a year if Bebb-Jones decides to appeal the decision.

“It may take some time,” Beeson said. “[Or] we may be fortunate and he may decide to come over here and get it over with. That remains to be seen.

“I don’t see any reason that he wouldn’t use his appellate rights,” Beeson said of Bebb-Jones challenging the extradition.

Beeson, who is prosecuting the case and heading the extradition case against Bebb-Jones, made the decision to travel to London for the hearing and to prepare witnesses for the upcoming trial. He said that the decision was made to go to London because it is more cost-effective than flying each of the witnesses here, individually, for interviews.

“We are going to have to fly them here for the trial anyway,” Beeson said. “Trying to get them over here before trial, to sit down with them and prep them for trial and to evaluate them as witnesses, on a one-at-a-time basis, does not seem to me to be the most effective or efficient use of resources we have. And part of those resources are funding.”

When asked why the interviews had to be conducted in person and could not be done by phone or other means of communication, Beeson said that “any trial lawyer, worth their salt, wants to look in the eyes and see the body language of the witness, and the opponents’ witnesses, to see what kind of witness they are going to be at trial.”

While this was the first trip to London for the DA’s office, this is the third trip to the UK for Middleton and Ashworth, according to Ashworth’s written arrest affidavit.

According to the affidavit used to secure an arrest warrant for Bebb-Jones, Ashworth and Middleton also traveled to Scotland in December 2007, and to Ireland and England in April 2008, to interview a former co-worker of Bebb-Jones and two former employees of the hotel in which Bebb-Jones and his wife owned during the time of Sabrina’s disappearance.

The total cost for the trips has yet to be revealed, but Beeson said that since Sabrina’s remains were found in Garfield County, the costs incurred will be paid for by the 9th Judicial District.

“Regardless of where the case is prosecuted, it has to be prosecuted by a taxpayer-funded DA’s office,” he said. “This is not a traffic or DUI case, and I’m not treating it like a traffic case. I’m going to treat it with the seriousness that it has, and I’m going to prosecute it the way a homicide case should be prosecuted.”

jgardner@postindependent.com


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