A judge on Tuesday denied a multi-pronged effort to win a new trial for Sir Mario Owens, facing the death penalty for his role in two shootings that left three people dead – including the murder of a witness.
Owens, 32, is one of three people on death row in Colorado.
In a 148-page decision, Arapahoe County district court Judge Christopher Munch quoted earlier rulings when he wrote that Owens was “entitled to a fair trial, but not a perfect trail,” and that “a fair trial is a trial whose result is reliable.”
“Owens received a fair trial,” Judge Munch wrote, “and its result is reliable.”
Owens was first convicted in 2007 of the murder of Gregory Vann and as an accomplice in the woundings of Javad Marshall-Fields and Elvin Bell – all stemming from an incident at Lowry Park in Aurora.
He was later convicted of murdering Marshall-Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe. Marshall-Fields had been scheduled to testify about the Lowry Park shooting.
Owens’ conviction in the first shooting was an aggravating factor that contributed to a judge’s decision to sentence him to death in the killings of Marshall-Fields and Wolfe.
After having his conviction upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals, Owens sought what is known as post-conviction relief, arguing that he was deprived a fair trial because his attorneys were ineffective and had conflicts of interest and because of prosecutorial and juror misconduct.
Judge Munch rejected every argument in issuing his ruling, which came after a five-day hearing last October, a one-day hearing in April, additional telephone testimony and the review of thousands of pages of transcripts and other documents.
James Castle, one of Owens’ attorneys, said he was with him in prison Tuesday and was not available for comment. But Castle released the following statement:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Owens, Vann, Bell, Wolfe, and Fields families at this time as well as with all the people who have been affected by this case. As the defenders of Mr. Owens we are saddened and disappointed in the decision of the court but it does not weaken our unflinching resolve to seek a just result.”
The first of the two shootings for which Owens was convicted occurred July 4, 2004, at a barbeque and rap contest that Gregory Vann and Javad Marshall-Fields organized at Lowry Park.
In that incident, Robert Ray – a longtime friend of Owens’ – got into a dispute with numerous people at the event. Owens came to his defense in the confrontation that followed and shot and killed Vann.
As Owens ran to Ray’s SUV in an effort to escape, Marshall-Fields and Elvin Bell attempted to detain him. Ray shot and wounded both of them, and the two men fled from the area.
Ray was eventually identified as a suspect in the case and was scheduled to go on trial on June 27, 2005. A week before that trial was scheduled to start, Marshall-Fields and Wolfe were gunned down while driving on Dayton Street.
The claim about juror misconduct received extensive attention from the judge.
Owens and his attorneys asserted that the woman, known as Juror 75, was dishonest in filling out a questionnaire given to all jurors before trial, that she failed to acknowledge that she had prior contacts with some witnesses and knew others, that she was biased because she knew two of Marshall-Fields’ uncles, and that she had knowledge about the second incident on Dayton Street and used that knowledge as she reached her verdict in the Lowry Park shootings.
In numerous cases, the judge concluded that the juror provided inaccurate information or did not disclose things she should have.
For instance, one question asked whether she had “ever been a witness or a party to any court proceeding?” The woman answered, “no.” In fact, she had experienced financial troubles and had been sued several times as part of collection efforts.
The judge also acknowledged that she had some information about the murders of Marshall-Fields and Wolfe – but concluded that it didn’t affect her decision to convict Owens in the Lowry Park incident.
“This court does not find that the juror in question was deliberately dishonest about any material matter or that she engaged in any deliberate misconduct,” the judge wrote.
And while the judge did find problems with various parts of the case, he ultimately concluded that the “errors, when considered cumulatively, are insufficient to warrant a new trial.”
Following the release of the decision, the office of District Attorney George Brauchler released a statement:
“Sir Mario Owens murdered Greg Vann at Lowry Park on July 4, 2004. While nothing can relieve the loss suffered by Greg’s family, we hope that they may find some relief in knowing that this phase in the legal process is concluded. We believe that this is a correct and just ruling from the court, and we believe it will bring comfort to the victims and the community.”
In addition to Owens, the other two men on death row in Colorado are Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993, and Roy, who ordered the murder of Marshall-Fields.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has granted an indefinite stay of Dunlap’s execution.