The late disclosure of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors has come to light in another murder case, this time resulting in a continuance of trial while an inquiry involving key players in the case is held. Rhiannon Montoya faces first-degree murder charges in Rio Arriba County, NM, and was slated to go to trial last Monday until Assistant District Attorney Peter Valencia revealed that his office had a taped interview with the defendant that hadn’t been turned over to defense counsel.
The Albaquerque Journal reports that by the end of a motions hearing last Thursday, District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer was “clearly irritated” by the state’s failure to timely disclose all the exculpatory information in its possession:
Assistant District Attorney Peter Valencia told the judge that sheriff’s evidence custodian Abraham Baca told him “like a sad puppy dog” that he found a second investigative file with a taped interview from Montoya after she was arrested and read her rights. The misplacement and failure to log in evidence meant the prosecution was previously unaware of certain evidence, said Valencia. “Evidence has been trickling in that was in that second file,” he said.
“There was no second file. There were reports that were in a computer,” said sheriff’s spokesman Jake Arnold. “There was no mismanagement of any evidence.
“Everything was turned over in a timely fashion … It is the responsibility of the D.A. to come and review the files.”
Marlowe Sommer said within the next two weeks she would convene a task force with District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco, Sheriff Tommy Rodella, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Petra Maes and the attorneys involved. “We are going to get this straightened out,” she said, noting things have been “way too informal.”
The public defender on Montoya’s case said the late disclosure was part of a pattern of withholding evidence on the part of the prosecution:
Loyd said obtaining evidence in the case from the District Attorney’s Office had been an ongoing struggle and that the state had changed its witness list four times in April alone.
“This ongoing pattern of late disclosure and non-disclosure on the part of the state is conduct which, at best, can be explained as gross negligence and at worst, constitutes prosecutorial misconduct,” Loyd wrote in his motion…
Loyd also claims that hundreds of photographs — including images of bloody clothing worn by Montoya’s co-defendants and items stolen from the home of the victim — were not released to the defense attorney until Wednesday, five days before Montoya was scheduled to go on trial.
This is the latest in a run of cases where exculpatory evidence has been disclosed on the eve of trial or even in the middle of it. See our previous post about late disclosures here.