Marijuana case to be retried
A prosecutor’s misstep, followed by her unwillingness to tell a jury that she had misstated the facts of her case, led to a mistrial in a drug possession trial Friday.
At one point the defense attorney likened the proceedings to a scene from the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” in reference to a suggestion from the judge as to how to deal with the issues at hand.
The case will be tried again in February, when Aspen native Trevi Burkholder will again face charges that a quantity of marijuana found in a backpack in downtown Aspen was hers, as was a large amount of money.
Police discovered roughly two ounces of pot (not “several grams,” as was reported in another publication) in a knapsack that had been left by the back door of the Aspen Store Texaco station on Main Street on Feb. 10, 2000.
No one saw Burkholder in the store that evening, according to testimony from the store owner, and a surveillance video failed to produce an identifiable image of a woman who he said walked hurriedly through the store at one point that night.
Also found in the backpack, according to testimony from Aspen Police Officer Dan Glidden, was $1,805, along with some articles of clothing, a magazine addressed to Burkholder and a business card bearing her name.
According to police, when Burkholder was reached at her home, she responded to questions by saying, “Oh, someone must have taken it out of my car. I didn’t call you for obvious reasons.”
Burkholder, 27, is fighting the charges, maintaining that the backpack was stolen from her car and was not in her possession.
It was during a debate between her attorney, former District Attorney Chip McCrory, and Deputy District Attorney Kate Sullivan that the statements were made leading to the mistrial.
Sullivan, during a heated exchange over legal details of the case with McCrory, declared in front of the jury that the defendant had said that the money was hers.
McCrory had been arguing that the issue of the money is irrelevant to the case. At one point he said the money was being used to “somehow prejudice the jury that my client is some kind of drug dealer.”
“I believe Ms. Burkholder has admitted that’s her money,” Sullivan said, while arguing that the ownership of the money was a key point in her case to prove that the pot also belonged to Burkholder.
Out of the hearing of the jury, McCrory responded that Burkholder had not made any such admission that he knew of, and told the judge, “That statement by the prosecution itself is highly damaging.”
The judge suggested the situation might be solved with a “curative instruction” to the jury to ignore Sullivan’s remark.
McCrory said that would be like telling the jury, “Ignore that man behind the curtain, like in `The Wizard of Oz’.”
He said the only course of action he would accept would be for Sullivan to admit that Burkholder never made such a statement.
But Sullivan, after a hurried conference outside the courtroom, declined to make such a statement, noting it would create “a huge credibility problem for me. That would put us in an extremely precarious position.”
The judge then declared a mistrial and set the new trial for Feb. 16, which is just within the 90 days allowed for such a retrial.
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