Post Independent asks court to unseal murder case papers
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent Wednesday asked a Garfield County District Court judge to make public a document that led to the arrest in Carbondale’s first homicide case in 12 years.
The Post Independent also seeks to unseal a public defender’s motion that strives to maintain secrecy of the arrest affidavit.
According to law enforcement, Arturo Navarrete-Portillo, 46, of Carbondale, admitted to killing his wife, Maria Carminda Portillo-Amaya, 30, as he was being flown to Grand Junction for medical treatment after a car accident Feb. 16. Police located Portillo-Amaya’s body in an apartment later that afternoon. The Garfield County coroner ruled the death a homicide by “sharp force trauma.”
Navarrete-Portillo, held under protective custody for two weeks while hospitalized with injuries from the accident, is charged with first-degree murder.
In order to arrest Navarrete-Portillo, authorities were obliged to craft an affidavit detailing probable cause for a warrant. The document, which is under seal, could help shed light on what happened that morning and how police pieced it together.
It’s fairly common practice in Garfield County for judges to order court documents kept secret until a suspect has been arrested, ostensibly to avoid interfering with ongoing investigations. They’re usually unsealed in time for the first court appearance, but Navarrete-Portillo’s wasn’t.
Judge James Boyd set a March 23 deadline for objections to unsealing the affidavit, and the defense filed a motion on the final day. The public defender wants to keep secret its reasons for maintaining the seal on the affidavit.
Steve Zansberg, a Denver-based First Amendment lawyer, filed the request to unseal the arrest affidavit and the defense motion.
“Courts in Colorado and throughout the country have recognized that the public is entitled to know the basis for a judge’s decision to authorize police to deprive a citizen of his liberty and subject him to criminal prosecution that may result in far more serious deprivation of his liberty,” Zansberg said.
The Post Independent’s motion contends that “the right of the people to receive information through the news media concerning the workings of the criminal justice system as well as the right of the news media to gather and report that information, are rights protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and by article II, section 10 of the Constitution of the State of Colorado.”
The public defender’s office has, in the past, objected to extensive pretrial publicity on the grounds that it may make it difficult to obtain an unbiased jury in a small community.
The motion contends, however, that “even in this modern era, courts have found it not only possible, but fairly straightforward, to seat a panel of impartial jurors,” even in such high-profile trials as those of Timothy McVeigh and Martha Stewart.
Said Zansberg, “Because there are myriad ways for courts to protect a defendant’s fair trial rights, even in high-profile cases, such as this one, or the Aurora theater shooting trial, the Constitution requires that such means be employed rather than keeping the public in the dark.”
The murder case began with what seemed like merely an auto accident at about 7:15 a.m. Feb. 16, when a Toyota 4Runner driven by Navarrete-Portillo crashed into the rear of a cattle truck just south of Carbondale’s city limits on Highway 133. First taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Navarrete-Portillo made his startling admission en route to St. Mary’s Hospital. His wife’s body was found in an apartment less than 2 miles from the crash site.
In another unusual twist in the case, Navarrete-Portillo’s passport was found Feb. 25 in a Carbondale dumpster. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said a company hired to clean the homicide scene had disposed of it and it wasn’t needed in the case.
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A social media tip last week led police to two apparently right-leaning teenage boys who allegedly stole at least one political sign, and likely more, from Basalt-area yards recently.