Edwin Lara’s defense team says Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel violated a gag order on the capital murder case three times. The team argued Wednesday to Deschutes County Circuit Judge A. Michael Adler that he should sanction Hummel as a result.
The argument came in the second of three days of hearings in what has been a lengthy proceeding, originally starting July 10. The first stretch of testimony went from July 10 to July 20, before a roughly six-week break due to witness availability. The proceeding is expected to conclude Thursday, after the state presents one more witness and both sides give closing arguments.
The hearings are to decide if a statement Lara made without an attorney present should be allowed in a trial, along with any evidence gathered as a result of his statement. But argument Wednesday afternoon surrounded a defense motion seeking action for alleged violations of the gag order, including an allegation that Hummel sent a trove of previously unreleased evidence to an attorney not involved in the case.
When reached Wednesday, Hummel declined to comment, other than to say he did not violate the gag order.
Lara, 32, is accused of killing Kaylee Sawyer, 23, in the early morning hours of July 24, 2016, while he was working as a security guard for Central Oregon Community College in Bend.
He is charged with four counts of aggravated murder, the only crime punishable by death in Oregon. Hummel is seeking the death penalty, and Lara is due to stand trial in October 2018.
Lara was arrested on July 26, 2016, by California Highway Patrol deputies after allegedly going on a crime spree in California that included attempted murder, kidnapping and carjacking.
That same day, Deschutes County Circuit Presiding Judge Alta Brady imposed a gag order prohibiting any statement about the case outside of court — and set the tone for the case.
On Aug. 11, 2016, Adler amended the order to ban statements outside of court that would have a substantial likelihood of infringing upon Lara’s right to a fair trial. On Aug. 18, 2016, Adler reimposed the initial, stricter order, claiming that three days prior Hummel made inappropriate statements to the media.
Hummel filed a motion Oct. 24 in opposition, claiming he did no such thing, and that the gag order was overbroad and unconstitutional. Hummel stated the order prohibited him from discussing the case with Sawyer’s family and from announcing his decision to seek the death penalty.
While considering Hummel’s motion in court in November, Adler stated Hummel could discuss the case with the family and announce his decision on the gag order. He also chastised the district attorney in open court, criticizing his penchant for making statements to the media and stating Hummel never had intention of complying with the gag order.
On Wednesday, defense attorney Steve Lindsey used Adler’s November comments to argue Hummel has violated the order three times since then, the first coming just days after Adler dressed Hummel down in open court.
Lindsey argued that Hummel violated the gag order in a press release and subsequent letter published in The Bulletin announcing his decision. The gag order stated Hummel is not allowed to discuss evidence in the case with the public. In both the press release and the letter, Hummel stated his decision to pursue the death penalty came after reviewing evidence in the case. Lindsey argued that the mention of evidence as a factor violated the gag order.
Deschutes County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Anderson argued Wednesday that the mention of evidence does not violate the order, and that Hummel mentioned it as a category of things he considered, and was clearly careful not to discuss specific evidence.
However, the third alleged violation of the order is far more recent, and is what prompted the defense to file a motion seeking sanctions, Lindsey said.
On the first anniversary of Sawyer’s death, attorney Tim Williams filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sawyer’s family against Central Oregon Community College and Lara. The lawsuit contained graphic details that Adler, the defense and prosecution had spent nearly 12 months keeping out of the public eye.
Lindsey said this information — about 2,700 pieces of evidence protected under the gag order — was given to Williams by Hummel.
Anderson did not dispute that the information filed in the civil suit came from Hummel, but said the family clearly has a right to information on the case. She said the defense’s motion is the result of frustration that the victims proceeded with a civil lawsuit while the criminal case was ongoing.
“This is not a violation,” she said Wednesday.
Lindsey disagreed, saying Hummel violated the gag order “intentionally and with indifference to this proceeding.”
Williams said that he originally planned to wait to file the civil suit until after the criminal case. However, then it was pushed back at the defense’s request from October 2017 to October 2018. The statute of limitations to file his civil claim is July 24, 2018.
“We were left with the choice to either file more than a year prior, or to otherwise wait until the statute of limitations period was up, which would have put the filing of the civil action only three months prior to the criminal trial,” Williams said Wednesday in an emailed statement.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and to limit any potential prejudicial impact on the defendant, we chose to file sooner than later.”
Lindsey also argued that statements in the civil suit are inaccurate.
While both the motion and the state’s response are sealed, argument given in court suggested Hummel responded by saying if Lara disputes the accuracy of the claims, he can argue that in the civil proceedings.
Anderson mentioned that the burden of proof is not as stringent in civil matters, and that her office is not involved in the civil case.
“This is all based on the conduct of another attorney representing the family of the victim in this case,” she said.
Adler said he would rule on the issue Thursday.
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