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Judge to review jewelry ruling

John Colson

A local judge has been ordered to clarify his ruling last year that threw out most of the evidence against an accused jewelry thief.

Judge J.E. DeVilbiss ruled last November that the case against Dayna Marie Hughes was based on improper acts by a Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy.

Acting on a motion by defense attorney Chip McCrory, the judge ruled that Sheriff’s Investigator Ron Ryan made an illegal promise of immunity from prosecution when questioning Hughes about charges that she stole some jewelry from her employer.

The ruling was appealed by Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills, and the state Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the judge’s ruling was technically “inadequate to permit proper review of the issue presented.”

Essentially, that means DeVilbiss must review the records of the hearing on McCrory’s motion and reconsider his motion.

“The court shall make any and all findings of fact necessary to support the district court’s subsequent order either granting or denying the defendant’s motion to suppress,” states the order of the Supreme Court.

The order directs DeVilbiss to specifically list “findings of fact” regarding three issues: the credibility of the witnesses; the manner in which the police questioned the defendant; and “the specific words used which constitute any promise, either expressed or implied, that may have been made by the police to the defendant.”

DeVilbiss also “shall set forth the legal standard it uses to arrive at a determination of the suppression issue,” which was not stated in the original decision.

DeVilbiss, asked about the order Thursday, said he was not sure how long it will take him to provide a response.

According to police, Hughes stole three necklaces from the home of her employers, Terry and Roberta Turkat of Aspen, on Jan. 6, 2000, because she was angry over being fired and not being paid for housekeeping work.

When a Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy contacted her about the three necklaces in early February and again in March of last year, she denied having them or knowing where they were.

But Ryan admitted saying during a telephone conversation that the necklaces had “great personal value” for Roberta Turkat and that Turkat had told him she would “consider” foregoing prosecution if the necklaces were returned.

Ryan, questioned by McCrory on the stand, said he had not intended to offer Hughes immunity from prosecution, adding that in one conversation he told her, “I can’t make any deals.” But he conceded that he never mentioned to her that only the district attorney’s office could offer such deals.

Hughes later turned over the necklaces and wrote a statement admitting that she took the necklaces because she was angry, Ryan said. But then she grew upset, he said, and accused him of breaking the promise he had allegedly made, that there would be no prosecution if the necklaces were returned.

McCrory said Ryan’s actions amounted to an “implied promise” of immunity from prosecution, and the judge agreed.


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