Delay in murder trial denied
Steamboat Springs — The judge presiding over the murder case of Thomas Lee Johnson denied a defense motion Tuesday to delay the trial.
Justice Joseph Quinn made the ruling at the Larimer County Courthouse in Fort Collins, where the trial is slated to begin at the end of the month.
Also on Tuesday, Quinn granted a defense motion allowing Johnson to undergo a second mental evaluation at the state’s mental hospital in Pueblo.
The 31-year-old Johnson has been charged with first-degree murder and criminal trespass and mischief in connection with the death of Lori Bases last year. Bases was found dead in her Steamboat Boulevard apartment in May 2000. She had been stabbed to death.
Because of Quinn’s ruling, Johnson is expected to be transported in the next couple of days from the Routt County Jail to Pueblo for the mental evaluation, which is to be completed by Oct. 18.
From there, it is likely Johnson will be taken to Larimer County to await the start of his trial. Quinn moved the trial from Steamboat Springs after ruling significant pretrial media coverage could make it difficult to select an impartial jury in Routt County.
Johnson will undergo a second mental evaluation because he did not cooperate in the first evaluation earlier this year.
Quinn ruled in September Johnson’s attorney, Norm Townsend, could not introduce defense testimony regarding his client’s mental condition at the trial because Johnson did not cooperate during the state evaluation.
“Before the evaluation, we did not know what noncooperation meant,” Townsend said. “On the advice of counsel, (Johnson) invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege” for some of the questions.
Because of Quinn’s ruling, Townsend will have a better grasp of what questions his client should answer in the second evaluation.
The state evaluation is critical because it is needed to allow Townsend to introduce testimony at trial regarding his client’s mental state.
Townsend filed this motion and a request to postpone the trial Sept. 28.
The motion to delay the trial was filed because of the impact the case is having on the public defender’s office in Steamboat Springs.
Because the trial has been moved about three hours east, Townsend will not have his colleague, William Schurman, in Fort Collins for help.
“Bill has to stay in Steamboat Springs to keep the office running,” Townsend said. “We just can’t leave the office.”
Schurman and Townsend provide legal representation to defendants in Routt, Grand and Moffat counties who can’t afford an attorney.
“We get about 100 new cases a month,” Townsend said. “We could not bring Bill and I down here for the trial.”
Because Quinn moved the trial, he could have chosen to delay the trial for up to three months, Townsend said.
Quinn, who has been intent on keeping the trial on schedule, denied the motion.
The case will reconvene in Fort Collins at 11 a.m. Oct. 19 for a status hearing. The trial is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 29.
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