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Judge denies motion in murder case

Jun 26, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The move would have split the murder and sexual assault trials for John Thomas Hereford, who is charged in the Sept. 11 shooting death of Travis Armajo in Lander.

A judge in a June 19 hearing denied one motion that would have helped the defense in a murder and sexual assault case, but he still is deciding on another motion.

The denied motion would have split the trials for the defendant's murder and sexual assault charges.

Keeping some statements the defendant made to police out of a potential trial was the thrust of the second motion.

John Thomas Hereford, of Lander, is charged in the Sept. 11 shooting death of Travis Armajo, 32, of Lander, at a house Hereford was renting in the 900 block of North Second Street in Lander. Hereford, who was 24 at the time, also faces charges alleging he confined Armajo's fiancee and sexually assaulted her. Authorities say the sexual assault occurred less than an hour after the shooting at a house roughly two blocks from where police found Armajo's body.

Defense counsel

"They can't be based upon the same act or transaction; there is no common scheme or plan to the degree that they should be joined in the same motion," defense counsel Bob Horn said about the two charges. "To do so would be prejudicial."

The sexual assault case is stronger than the murder one, Horn said. Joining the two would help prosecution make the weaker count stick.

"They are inextricably intertwined," deputy county attorney Patrick Lebrun said. "The state would suffer prejudice if they are severed."

Wyoming 9th Judicial District Judge Norman E. Young said he agreed with Lebrun after hearing testimony from Lander Police Department Detective Randy Lutterman.

"I believe they are connected together by time, connected in space, connected by the evidence, connected by the witnesses, and prima facie, they are a connected scheme," he said.

Motion to suppress

At the hearing, Horn said his client twice asked for a lawyer during a Sept. 11 interrogation, and a law enforcement agent stopped the questioning after the second time, about 30 minutes in. The interview continued later, however, and Horn wanted excluded from court everything his client said after the interview was stopped at about the 30-minute mark.

"He asked for his right to have a lawyer," Horn said. "It is simply a scheme on the part of the government attorney and the government agency interrogating him to continue asking him what they wanted to ask."

Lutterman testified that at about 18 minutes into the interrogation, Hereford said he wanted to talk to a lawyer. Lutterman said the interrogating agent asked, "You can continue talking or do you want an attorney present with you?"

"Mr. Hereford said, 'I want to continue talking,'" Lutterman said.

Roughly 12 minutes later, Hereford said, "I don't know, maybe I want to talk to a lawyer," according to a transcript of the interview Horn read.

The interrogating agent said he wanted to stop the conversation to err on the side of caution, and as he was telling Hereford he could continue if he wanted, the defendant interrupted, Lutterman said.

Hereford asked if he could see police reports regarding other witnesses' statements.

Lebrun said the second time Hereford asked about a lawyer and the interrogator stopped, Hereford's request was equivocal. Furthermore, Hereford later re-engaged the agent in conversation, legally allowing the interrogation to continue, the prosecutor said.

Lebrun argued the whole interrogation should be admissible because Hereford never unequivocally asked for legal counsel. Even if the judge ruled the request was unambiguous, the defendant resumed the conversation, making interrogation admissible.

Young said he would listen to a recording of the interrogation and make a decision at a later date.

Young also granted a request allowing Hereford to meet with his mother and girlfriend in prison.

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