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Arapahoe County judge closed courtroom, violating public trial right, appeals panel rules

The ruling overturned the conviction of a man charged with conspiring to rob a marijuana dispensary.
Credit: Thinkstock

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — An Arapahoe County judge violated a defendant’s constitutional rights by closing his courtroom to keep out one individual during the trial, the Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday in reversing the convictions.

In the criminal proceedings against Terrel Shameek Turner, District Court Judge Ben L. Leutwyler III decided to exclude the wife of Turner's co-defendant from the courtroom on the assumption that there would be a protection order keeping her away from certain parties at the trial, but without detailing the nature of the threat she might pose.

Prosecutors charged Turner with conspiring with Christopher Cruse to rob a marijuana dispensary, although the store’s manager was unable to open the safe and Turner left empty-handed. A jury found him guilty of burglary, attempt to commit robbery, attempt to commit theft and assault. He received five years in prison.

Turner appealed, citing an incident from the third day of his August 2017 trial: The prosecutor announced that Cruse’s wife had been arrested for harassing a victim advocate and a witness outside the courtroom.

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