A Colorado senior judge this week limited the evidence allowed at the retrial of a Farmington man charged with murder, undercutting prosecutors’ case alleging he killed an Ignacio drug dealer in 2012 to expand his illicit enterprise.
Colorado Senior Judge John McMullen, at least the third judge to oversee Tommy Mitchell’s case since his 2014 first-degree murder conviction, ordered this week to allow four of seven “prior acts” that 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne asked the court to consider.
The “prior acts” include allegations of how the defendant and the victim knew each other, the volatile nature of their relationship and Mitchell’s alleged criminal behavior before and after the killing that prosecutors hope might give a jury reason to convict.
McMullen won’t allow evidence suggesting Mitchell got started drug dealing by robbing other drug dealers, that the person who introduced Mitchell to the victim had been “cut out” of subsequent drug deals and that the victim knew Mitchell had been accused of a previous homicide.
Prosecutors hoped to use this evidence to show Mitchell’s pattern of robbing dealers to “grow and expand his drug dealing enterprise,” according to court documents. McMullen denied the evidence, saying it could, in part, create “the danger of unfair prejudice,” according to the order.
Evidence that will be allowed includes information that the defendant and victim had previously met through drug dealing, that Mitchell wore a bullet-proof vest to the first drug deal with the victim, that he threatened the victim over a prior disputed drug deal and that Mitchell solicited someone to kill a co-defendant’s family in an attempt to intimidate the co-defendant from cooperating in the prosecution, according to a motion Champagne filed April 23.
A 12-person jury found Mitchell guilty in 2014 of robbing, shooting and killing Joey Benavidez, 39. The shooting death occurred in 2012 near Ignacio over a marijuana deal. The case included several co-defendants, including Jeremiah Mason, Armando Yazzie, Shanice Smith, Elijah Timothy Anglin and a juvenile.
Mitchell was sentenced in 2014 to life in prison. He’s been serving that sentence as inmate No. 164712 with the Colorado Department of Corrections.
But appellate judges found in September 2018 that 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Jeffery Wilson, who oversaw Mitchell’s trial, biased the case by failing to recuse himself after calling it “one of the most cold-blooded murders that have occurred in this county” at a co-defendant’s sentencing hearing before Mitchell’s case went to trial.
McMullen earlier this week denied a defense motion to dismiss Mitchell’s case on allegations of “outrageous governmental conduct.” Mitchell is scheduled for retrial in August.