Prosecutors have a tough case against Mark Redwine, who is accused of killing his son, a retired Durango defense lawyer told The Durango Herald.
The case is loaded with circumstantial evidence that is likely to be scrutinized and picked apart by defense lawyers in the months ahead, said Stephen Wells, who practiced criminal defense until recently.
“That’s a pretty difficult case for the prosecution,” Wells said after reviewing the four-page indictment accusing Redwine of second-degree murder and child abuse causing death. “There are lots of legal issues to raise for the defense. ... There’s so much in here that the jury would just have to draw inferences from this evidence.”
District Attorney Christian Champagne said not all of the evidence is contained in the indictment. The judicial process is adversarial, and it is natural defense lawyers will try to poke holes in the prosecution’s evidence. But he’s “optimistic” prosecutors can obtain a conviction.
“We feel the evidence is certainly strong enough to go forward to a trial,” Champagne said. “We are hopeful to achieve a conviction, but we trust the judicial process to work.”
Wells said defense lawyers are likely to challenge the reliability of cadaver-sniffing dogs, including how well the dog was trained, how well the dog trainer was trained, how much time passed before the dog detected a scent, and how many “false positives” the dog may have had.
“The scientific evidence on cadaver dogs – I don’t know how good that is going to be,” he said. “That’s all whether the principles are accepted in the scientific community as reliable.”
Divers searched Vallecito Reservoir several times after trained cadaver dogs “hit” on several spots near the dam. But no human remains are believed to have been found during those searches.
The indictment says DNA testing showed Dylan was the source of blood on a love seat in Mark Redwine’s living room, and it couldn’t eliminate Dylan as a source of blood found on the couch, floor in front of the couch, corner of the coffee table and beneath a rug.
Not being able to eliminate someone is less definitive than saying someone is the source of blood. What’s more, Dylan spent several years in the house before his death, and he shares similar DNA characteristics with his father, said Wells, who has practiced criminal law for 33 years.
A forensic anthropologist determined Dylan Redwine’s skull had two small markings consistent with tool marks from a knife. Likewise, a wildlife officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said no animal known to the area would transport a skull 1½ miles through rugged terrain. But defense lawyers are likely to call expert witnesses to challenge those findings and offer a counter view, Wells said.
Defense lawyers will seek to suppress certain details, such as “compromising pictures” of Mark Redwine, arguing that admission of such evidence prejudices their client without proving a crime, Wells said.
“These compromising photos – I can’t believe they would be admissible,” he said. “I don’t know what they show, but they’re not going to put Mark Redwine in a very good light. If they’re compromising somehow, the jury’s going to look at those and go, ‘I don’t like Mark Redwine.’ What does that show? The prejudice that can come to him would outweigh any probative value that they would have.”
Finally, defense lawyers will downplay video surveillance that shows “little to no personal interaction between Mark Redwine and his 13-year-old (son),” saying it’s not relevant and doesn’t prove anything.
“Just because (details) are in this indictment doesn’t mean they’ll be evidence allowed to be used (at trial),” Wells said. “The job of a defense lawyer is to keep evidence out that may be prejudicial to the client. That sounds bad – you’re trying to exclude evidence – but it’s evidence that’s just going to confuse the jury, essentially.”
He added: “The case is circumstantial. There are lots of suppression issues. There are lots of relevance issues.”
Circumstantial evidence requires jurors to apply a level of reasoning or inference to reach a factual conclusion.
For example, a mother may notice cookies missing in a cookie jar. She may ask both of her children if they took the cookies, and both may deny it. But one child has cookie crumbs on his face. The mother may infer that that child took the cookies even though she didn’t see him take the cookies or eat the cookies, and she can’t be sure someone else didn’t take the cookies and give them to her son.
Direct evidence tends to be more factual; for example, video showing a defendant committing a crime, or a recorded confession from a defendant or a witness who saw a crime be committed. Prosecutors used a grand jury to secure the indictment. Grand juries hear only the prosecution’s evidence and issues indictments based on “probable cause,” a relatively low standard of proof.
State prosecutors sometimes rely on grand juries to gauge how strong of a case they have. If a grand jury is willing to issue an indictment, they feel better about filing formal charges.
What’s more, it allows district attorneys to distance themselves from the outcome.
“If the district attorney’s case goes south on him, he doesn’t have to take the burden for saying, ‘I chose to file it,’” Wells said. “If he loses, people can say, ‘Well, you should have waited.’ But in this case, you give it to the grand jury and they say, ‘Well, there’s probable cause now.”
Champagne said a grand jury process allowed him to tap the community for feedback on the strength of his case and whether probable cause exists to move forward. The jurors are vetted for objectivity and impartiality similar to any other jury, he said.
“We wanted the involvement of the community as early in this case as possible,” Champagne said. “To be able to bring in 12 citizens from the community to examine the evidence, to be able to look at it closely and mull over whether there’s probable cause gives us input and feedback about what our community thinks of this case, the strength of our case, and the wisdom of proceeding forward with this case.”