In an unexpected turn of events, a Douglas County judge has declared a mistrial in the case of a man accused of killing a Colorado state trooper after hitting him with his vehicle in 2016.
Noe Gamez-Ruiz was charged with criminal negligence, a class 5 felony, as well as a misdemeanor and a traffic infraction for the death of Trooper Cody Donahue on Nov. 25, 2016.
Donahue was investigating a car accident along Interstate 25 south of Castle Rock at approximately 1:50 p.m. that day when Gamez-Ruiz passed him traveling in a U.S. Foods truck.
The semi likely caught Donahue by his belt, twisted him, struck his head and broke his leg, according to testimony from day two of the trial. Two witnesses testified Donahue was killed immediately, mostly like from the trauma to his head.
The trial began nearly two years after Donahue's death but came to an abrupt stop when a witness gave surprise testimony on day three of what was scheduled to be an eight-day trial.
Douglas County District Judge Shay Whitaker granted the defense's request for a mistrial after an expert witness offered a stronger opinion than what they'd written in reports filed during discovery, said 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.
A new trial is set for Feb. 12.
Brauchler was not at the trial on Sept. 13 but believed the expert was a pathologist.
“She had testified far more definitively and with a specific opinion about what part of the truck had struck him (Donahue),” Brauchler said.
Brauchler said the expert's new stance surprised the defense and the judge felt that opinion should have been given to them prior to the testimony, either verbally or in the report.
There was further confusion earlier in the day.
Before the expert testimony, a witness who was driving on I-25 when the accident occurred was scheduled to testify about what they saw that day. Since the accident, Brauchler said, the witness told prosecutors by email they had begun taking a class to gain their commercial driving license.
Whitaker also believed that should have been disclosed to the defense.
“The biggest thing was the expert piece,” Brauchler said.
The district attorney did not believe the mistrial would change the prosecution's approach to the case. Lead counsel for Gamez-Ruiz, Harvey Steinberg, could not be reached for comment.
Brauchler said the development was a frustrating and disappointing delay in justice for Donahue's wife and family.
A motions hearing is scheduled for late October, when the defense and prosecution will debate how to proceed with the case after the mistrial.
“We're going to have to come back,” Brauchler said, “and do this again.”
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