Trial results in hung jury

Jurors deadlocked in menacing case

Jurors couldn’t reach agreement last week in 6th Judicial District Court in the trial of an Ignacio man suspected of threatening a police officer with a baseball bat.

District Judge Suzanne Carlson declared a mistrial Thursday evening after jurors deliberated for a half day without reaching a unanimous decision in the case of Anthony Martinez, 24, who was charged with felony menacing.

In a phone message left Monday with The Durango Herald, prosecutor Keri Yoder indicated she would retry the case. She could not be reached Monday afternoon for further comment.

The trial started July 22 and wrapped up Thursday with closing arguments.

Prosecutors said Martinez ran toward three Southern Ute Police Department officers with a bat raised over his right shoulder about 3:40 a.m. Dec. 5 just west of Ignacio.

Officer Patrick Joseph Backer fired two gunshots, hitting Martinez once in the back.

Public defense lawyers Sean Murray and John Moran said Martinez thought he was defending himself from people he thought were trying to attack him. They questioned how Martinez was shot in the back if he was running toward the police officer who fired the shots.

The case was prosecuted by Yoder and Kurt Beckenhauer with the 7th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which includes Montrose and Telluride, because the Durango district attorney’s office had a conflict of interest.

Backer is the son of Larry Backer, chief investigator with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Durango.

Jurors were split about whether Martinez acted in bad faith or if he was protecting himself from potential attackers, said Marye Lucero, one of 12 jurors, when reached Monday for comment.

Police said they were performing a “knock and talk,” in which they turned off their car lights, parked at the end of the street, and approached the house to contact anyone inside to make sure everything was OK.

There had been several fights and a report of domestic violence earlier that evening at the house.

As police approached in the dark, they heard rustling from a brush or a tree. Officer Sheryl Herrera turned on a flashlight and saw a man running toward them, yelling, “What’s up (expletive). Let’s do this.” He had a baseball bat raised above his right shoulder.

Backer drew his gun, identified himself as a police officer, and ordered the man to drop the bat. Officers said Martinez never swung the bat.

The officer fired two shots when Martinez was 6 feet to 10 feet away, according to one account.

Jurors re-enacted the encounter in the jury room, but in order for Martinez to have been shot in the back under those circumstances, he would have had to have been a “contortionist,” Lucero said.

Martinez was flown to St. Anthony Hospital in Denver.

He was unaware he had been shot by police, according to a flight nurse and interviews with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Only two jurors could be reached Monday for comment.

Both said they wanted to acquit Martinez.

They also questioned whether police behaved appropriately.

“I’m wondering why they didn’t bring charges against the police,” Lucero said. “And two other people said that, too.”

Before the trial, Yoder said her office reviewed Backer’s actions and decided not to file charges.

Connie Langenbahn, another juror, said she wanted to acquit Martinez, saying he probably thought he was warding off the enemy, not police. The police should have done a better job of announcing themselves, rather than sneak up on the house, she said.

She believes Martinez turned to run after the first shot and was hit in the back by the second shot.

“I don’t think he meant to hit the police,” Langenbahn said. “I think if he had known it was the police, he never would have kept coming.”

Martinez did not take the witness stand. He remains free on $5,000 bail.

shane@durangoherald.com

The jury deliberated for a half day Thursday before the judge declared a mistrial. Incorrect information about the start time and length of deliberation was provided to the Herald in an earlier version of this story.