Cops on trial
It’s a rare occasion in Aspen when a woman is brutally raped, yet that’s what law officials say happened more than a year ago outside of the Centennial Apartments.
But based on the dozens of hours spent in a Pitkin County courtroom arguing over evidence in the case, it seems as if local law authorities – not suspect Emanuel Gonzalez-Loujun – are on trial.
Like all defendants, Gonzalez-Loujun, 22, is entitled to the best defense possible for these serious charges. After all, he faces a lifetime behind bars if convicted of sexually assaulting a woman, whom prosecutors say he dragged to a snowbank and raped three different times.
But if one is to believe the arguments of public defenders Tina Fang and Stephen McCrohan, this case was mishandled from the start. Their arguments have been effective enough to change what once seemed like a slam-dunk case for the prosecution.
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• Jan. 21, 2010 – Judge James Boyd threw out statements the suspect made to a sexual nurse examiner the day after the alleged rape of Jan. 17, 2009, including the remark: “I had a bad relapse and made some bad choices at the bar.” The statements were suppressed because the nurse solicited them, and then gave them to Aspen police, without advising the suspect of his rights.
• Jan. 28, 2010 – Boyd dismissed several statements Gonzalez-Loujun made to police because the Aspen Police Department failed to properly handle evidence and provide some of it to the public defender’s office, ranging from police videos to blood samples from the suspect.
On Wednesday, public defenders took aim at the APD’s alleged mishandling of blood drawn from the suspect shortly after the alleged crime. Because it was not refrigerated, the blood is now contaminated. Fang and McCrohan contend that the contaminated blood will be a setback to their strategy, which is to demonstrate that Gonzalez-Loujun was drunk and had been taking cocaine, and was unaware of his actions.
When Judge Boyd made his Jan. 28 ruling, he said he did not find anything “intentional or willful” by the Aspen Police Department or the district attorney’s office in the handling of the case. But he determined that both offices have demonstrated a “failure to completely fix these flaws.”
And near the end of a motions hearing Wednesday, Boyd said the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office’s recent audit of the APD’s evidence-collections procedure is a step in the right direction.
“Given the history of this case and others in this court, [the investigation] is a good response to criticism, not a bad one,” he said.
To the APD’s credit, it appears to be doing all it can to learn from this case. Investigators and two assistant police chiefs have attended court hearings spurred by the defense team, which clearly feels the case was botched from the start.
We hope this is a learning experience for the Aspen Police Department and the district attorney’s office. We also hope those lessons don’t come at the expense of justice being served in this heinous crime.
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