Sublette County District Court denied Travis Kovach’s motion for a new trial based on alleged suppressed material evidence, limits to cross-examination during the trial and undisclosed exculpatory evidence.
Judge Marv Tyler issued a 42-page answer to the defendant on Tuesday, following a January appeal and a Feb. 21 hearing.
Kovach, a Daniel resident, was found guilty of three felonies and four misdemeanors – one count of felonious restraint, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of battery, one count of unauthorized use of a vehicle and one of property destruction – in a jury trial that concluded on Jan. 5.
All charges stem from an Oct. 15, 2010 altercation with two brothers from Kansas, Richard and Jess Ribelin, when a car Kovach was in collided with the Ribelin’s car.
A skirmish followed, and, at some point, then 73-year-old Jess suffered broken ribs, a head abrasion and bruising. Richard, who was 67 years old, suffered a facial fracture, broken nose and black eyes.
What occurred during the fight was heavily contested throughout the trial, but a jury determined Kovach used the presence of the gun to not only destroy property but also as a threatening, drawn deadly weapon while injuring the brothers.
The defense promptly filed an appeal after the trial, which the February hearing focused on. Tyler exhaustively addressed each complaint in his written decision.
The defense first alleged the court improperly limited the defendant’s cross-examination of certain witnesses, a claim Tyler said was not fully substantiated through a number of testimony examples.
“In the absence of an abuse of discretion, we will not disturb the trial court’s determination. The burden is on the defendant to establish such an abuse,” he wrote.
Next, the defense claimed the State suppressed or failed to disclose material evidence in three notable examples.
While the Court found the State had not tampered witnesses, Tyler said the prosecutor, Sublette County Attorney Neal Stelting, did intentionally withhold the existence of, and failed to turn over to the defendant, a recorded interview of David Huber. The State gave a number of reasons for not submitting the interview.
“Frankly, the County Attorney’s explanation is unsatisfactory and arcane. This tactic is seemingly based upon an unfounded and petty justification of ‘tit-for-tat,’” Tyler wrote. “Very simply, this deliberate exercise of non-disclosure or suppression has no place in our legal system.”
While Stelting said he was “pleased” with the Court’s decision, “I’m very disappointed and surprised by the Court’s language and opinion that pertains to Dave Huber’s interview,” he wrote in an email.
Stelting cited a rule requiring disclosure “upon order of the Court,” and only if the witness “has or will testify.”
The Court never issued such an order, Huber never testified and the defendant and Huber were close friends, meaning Kovach was aware of Huber’s interviews. Stelting felt disclosure was not required.
Notwithstanding the withheld evidence, Tyler did not feel this warranted a new trial.
“Defense counsel was unable to articulate any particular statement attributable to Mr. Huber which concretely demonstrated that ‘a reasonable probability exists that the result of the proceeding would have been different had the evidence been disclosed…’ or that the defendant suffered ‘any adverse effect,’” Tyler wrote.
The defense’s final claim was the State possesses undisclosed evidence favorable to defendant for sentencing. Tyler, however, wrote the defense needs something beyond “mere speculation” that the County Attorney’s Office has some additional evidence and denied that appeal, as well.
With the appeal answered, Kovach is scheduled for sentencing March 23 at 9:30 a.m. in Sublette County District Court in Pinedale.For the complete article see the 03-09-2012 issue.
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