Trial off in Aspen cocaine case; DA to appeal ruling
ASPEN – Key evidence suppressed by a judge Monday prompted a prosecutor to call off Tuesday’s jury trial scheduled for an Eastern European man in Pitkin County District Court.
Among the evidence that District Judge Gail Nichols threw out included a .38-caliber revolver and several packages of cocaine equating to 1.5 ounces. Aspen police collected the incriminating items from defendant Andrian Arapu’s residence, hours after he was arrested on immigration charges.
Arapu, 25, of Moldova, was set to stand trial on felony charges of cocaine possession with intent to distribute.
But Nichols, in response to a motion to suppress by defense attorney John Van Ness, determined that police obtained the evidence illegally after executing a search warrant April 6 at the Copper Horse apartment building on Main Street.
“We have no evidence of a crime without the drugs or gun,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin said in the judge’s chambers. “So that, in terms of a trial that is set for [today], we believe it would be disingenuous for me to tell the court we can proceed with a trial and we will not.”
Mordkin, however, said he plans to appeal the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court. Written arguments will be submitted to the high court Tuesday, he told Nichols.
“Our belief is this is a thing of statewide concern,” Mordkin said.
In a 29-page ruling order she issued last week, Nichols offered that she likely would suppress the evidence gathered by Aspen police, who were aiding Immigrations Customs and Enforcement agents during the sting. The judge determined that police officer Walter Chi should not have remained in Arapu’s residence after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents took him into custody.
When Chi was in the residence, he reportedly saw the incriminating evidence, leading him to obtain a search warrant on the property.
Nichols made her decision official Monday.
“I will suppress what the officer saw on the initial entry [of the apartment unit] and I will suppress evidence seized as a result of the search warrant,” she said.
Tuesday Nichols will consider whether to issue a personal-recognizance bond for Arapu, who is in Pitkin County Jail on $60,000 bond. ICE already has placed a hold on him, meaning that if Arapu is released from custody he will be detained by ICE.
“I believe deportation is inevitable,” Van Ness said.
Van Ness contended that the Supreme Court, in theory, could take as long as one or two years to rule on Mordkin’s appeal. And as long as the case is pending, Arapu would remain in custody of Pitkin County Jail.
“The defendant is considering voluntary deportation,” Van Ness said.
Nichols, however, said that the high court works quickly on interlocutory appeals, the technical term for Mordkin’s argument. Granting a personal-recognizance bond means that “Mr. Arapu would go to ICE, and we would lose control, and this is a very serious case,” Nichols said.
Even so, she decided to hold of making that decision final until Tuesday’s hearing.
The other defendant in the case, Yelena Inozemtseva, who was 24 years old at the time of her arrest, went free in May after prosecutors determined they lacked enough evidence to convict her.
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With solid recent rainfall, all fire restrictions in Pitkin County will end Friday morning.