The defense attorneys for a man awaiting trial on vehicular homicide charges is asking a judge to hold Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella in contempt of court.
Damian Horne and Kathryn Fischer, the public defenders representing 56-year-old Juan de Dios Cordova, filed motions that also accused the sheriff of trying to taint the jury pool.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is scheduled to publish in Sunday’s New Mexican, but since I wrote it Friday afternoon I figured I’d go ahead and post here and not wait until Sunday’s print edition comes out)
Rodella’s agency handled the investigation of a May 28 crash near Chimayó in which police say a drunken Cordova drove head-on into a group of motorcyclists, killing 51-year-old Mark Wolfe of Algodones and severely injuring several others. The sheriff’s office came under criticism throughout the preliminary hearing for its handling of the case.
Rodella took to the airwaves of popular Española radio station KDCE on Oct. 21 and read a two-page prepared statement defending his agency’s handling of the case.
Rodella concluded his prepared statement by saying his office did “exceptionally fine work” and “All of the sensational and misleading statements by defense counsel in this case reported by the news media are nothing but a smokescreen.”
Horne and Fischer wrote in their motion that the statement was “clearly planned, rehearsed and designed to influence the constituency and (jury) pool of the defendant’s home venue.” The motion points out that part of Rodella’s prepared statement even “acknowledges the Court’s admonition prohibiting him to speak about the case.”
State District Judge Glenn Ellington did ask all witnesses in the preliminary hearing not to discuss the case, but Rodella’s attorney, Stephen Aarons, said that was a standard admonishment for the preliminary hearing that ended on Oct. 13 when the preliminary hearing was concluded and the case was bound over for trial.
“He’s a public official responding to public interest in the case,” Aarons said. “He didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”
Rodella spokesman Jake Arnold echoed that sentiment.
“Sheriff Rodella is not tampering with the jury pool,” Arnold said. “His comments on KDCE last Friday did not say anything that hasn’t already been in print or broadcast.”
Arnold added that “has a pathological obsession with Sheriff Tommy Rodella.”
While Horne did not return a Friday afternoon call seeking comment, the motions he filed say plenty.
“His (Rodella’s) assertions were clearly designed to influence the electorate, enhanced his sullied reputation and to tamper with potential jurors,” the motion states.
At the very least, Horne and Fischer make it clear that they believe the “irreparable harm” Rodella has done opens the door for a future appeal based on violation of Cordova’s constitutional rights.
Among defense criticisms of the investigation: The truck that caused the crash was destroyed and sold for scrap metal, a blood sample from the defendant was kept in a personal refrigerator over the holiday weekend after the crash, deputies entered the defendant’s home without a warrant, and a deputy denied writing a police report filed in the case with her signature on it.
The defense also asked for contempt of court finding because of Rodella’s communication with another witness in the case — one of his deputies — the day that witness testified in the preliminary hearing.
It is unclear when Ellington will rule on the defense motions.
Here are some past story links: