Dan King, the chief trial deputy for the state public defender’s office in Colorado, testified Friday that he was “negligent” in his defense of a man in a different capital case who is now on death row. He took the stand as part of a post-conviction hearing for Sir Mario Owens, who along with his friend, Robert Ray, were sentenced to death for the murders of Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe. Marshall-Fields was set to testify against Ray before their deaths. The couple were gunned down on an Aurora street. King admitted under oath to making mistakes during Owens’ trial and sentencing in 2008, including not cross-examining witnesses and not calling potential defense witnesses. Owens’ post-conviction attorney Jim Castle asked King whether he was qualified to be the lead attorney in the Owens case? King answered, “No…”
King testified that his office was understaffed at the time and many of the lawyers were overworked. They lacked the manpower to thoroughly analyze the case. And his boss rejected his bid for more resources, so he could better defend Owens.
“I was the employee…I was told I was ready and had enough resources…that was a mistake.”
King is also representing James Holmes whose trial is scheduled to begin in December. However, the prosecution and defense have agreed to postpone the trial into early next year. The judge has not yet approved the request.
Owens’ appeal rests on ineffective assistance of counsel and King’s admission could go a long way to helping prove to a judge that he should get a new trial. The judge could order a re-sentencing as well.
The mother of Marshall-Fields, Rhonda Fields, did not attend the hearing, but told the media that she doesn’t “buy” the argument that the public defender’s office was understaffed and called it a typical “strategic tactic to prolong the sentence”. Fields was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives after the trials had concluded.
According to the American Bar Association, the Colorado Public Defender’s Office carries in excess of 100,000 cases a year in recent years. It is common in appeals based upon ineffective assistance of counsel that the accused defense attorney take the stand, not all admit to the accusations though. However, mistakes in a case do not guarantee a new trial as the Supreme Court has ruled that defendants are only entitled to a fair trial not to a perfect trial. The judge in the Owens’ case will decide whether the defense did make any mistakes and then whether those mistakes were “harmless” or would have led to a different verdict or sentence.
Holmes could request a new public defender. James Holmes, 26, has pled not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting deaths of 12 moviegoers and the wounding of dozens of others during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012.