Defense wants DA off attempted murder case

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A judge will rule later this month on whether a special prosecutor should be brought to Pitkin County for the prosecution of Aspen resident Donald Branson, who is charged with attempted murder.

Branson’s attorney, Gary Lozow, asked in court Wednesday that Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills be dismissed from the case because of several alleged conflicts of interest. Both attorneys appeared before Judge James Boyd of the 9th Judicial District on Wednesday morning at the Pitkin County Courthouse.

Branson, 54, is accused of attempting to kill Glenwood Springs resident Martin Arroyo near Old Snowmass in April. The suspect allegedly tried to slice Arroyo’s throat with a knife. He is charged with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault.

At issue is the fact that Arroyo was prosecuted in Garfield County for a menacing charge earlier this year by the same district attorney’s office. Lozow said a prosecutor from the Glenwood Springs called Arroyo’s credibility into question during her closing argument, and that Wills will now attempt to establish Arroyo’s credibility as a victim in this case.

“The same office that is vouching for him, establishing credibility and taking as gospel Mr. Arroyo’s testimony … is also prosecuting him at the same time,” Lozow said. He said a fair trial “can’t be more compromised than two sides of one office separated by 40 miles with the same boss” taking different positions.

Lozow also argues that Wills has had extensive contact with Arroyo during the police investigation, making him a potential witness in the case. Arroyo appeared at the hearing to testify about his contact with Wills and Sheriff’s Office director of investigations Joe DiSalvo.

Arroyo was vague about when he had conversations with Wills or DiSalvo, and said although he changed his mind several times about pursuing the charges against Branson, he decided he should because Branson’s ex-wife feared for her life.

“I knew I wasn’t the only one he was going to kill that day,” Arroyo said.

Although Lozow tried to establish a conflict over Wills speaking with Arroyo, Wills said speaking to witnesses isn’t unusual for prosecuting attorneys and almost unavoidable in a small community.

“If I had to disqualify myself every time there was someone I knew, I’d be out of business. I’d never do anything,” Wills said. “These things happen in a small town and a small valley.”

Branson, who is out of jail on bond, is residing with family in Texas. He appeared at the hearing wearing a pinstripe suit and sat quietly next to his attorney. Another hearing is scheduled for June 16 at 4 p.m., but Boyd said he may rule about the need for a special prosecutor before then.

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