Speedy trial at center of murder convict's Supreme Court appeal

Oct 14, 2015 By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- The state of Wyoming clearly violated a Cheyenne man's constitutional right to a speedy trial by allowing over 900 days to pass between his 2011 arrest on murder charges and his trial early last year, his lawyer told the state supreme court on Tuesday.

Nathaniel Castellanos, 36, was convicted last year of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the August 2011 shootings of three people at his Cheyenne home.

Police found Corey Walker, 21, and Megan McIntosh, 25, dead at the scene. Another woman, Amber McGuire, survived gunshot wounds and testified against Castellanos at trial.

Castellanos's jury rejected prosecutors' request for the death penalty. and he's now appealing his three life sentences.

Cheyenne lawyer Elizabeth Lance, who represents Castellanos in his appeal, told the Wyoming Supreme Court in arguments on Tuesday that the Wyoming Public Defender's Office effectively delayed action on his case because it lacked enough death-penalty qualified lawyers to bring him to trial faster. The court will issue a written decision on Castellanos's appeal later.

While his case was awaiting trial, Castellanos himself objected repeatedly to the delays and said he refused to give up his right to a speedy trial, Lance said.

The American Bar Association sets standards for lawyers in death penalty cases, including training and levels of experience. Lance said the state's handling of Castellanos's case shows a systematic breakdown of the state's justice system in regard to handling death penalty cases.

"If we're going to be a state that has capital punishment, then we must provide attorneys who are qualified to handle a death penalty case," Lance said.

District Judge Peter Arnold, the first judge to handle the case, expressed concern as early as October 2011 whether Castellanos's legal team was qualified to represent him in a death penalty case, Lance said.

She added that Arnold summoned State Public Defender Diane Lozano to speak about the case and said she told Arnold that her office only had two death-penalty qualified attorneys.

Lance told Supreme Court justices that it's not enough for the state to have only two death-penalty qualified lawyers on staff. She described the first lawyers Castellanos received as "almost as a placeholder."

While Castellanos's case was pending in district court, Lozano urged lawmakers to appropriate more money to her agency to help cover the costs of capital cases.