DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colorado — A judge in the case against a man accused of hitting and killing a state trooper has dismissed the felony charge of Criminally Negligent Homicide as a sanction against the district attorney’s office, 9Wants to Know has learned.
Judge Shay Whitaker issued an order late Friday afternoon to impose sanctions against the 18th Judicial District, led by George Brauchler, following a second mistrial in the case.
Judge Whitaker dismissed the class 6 felony against Noe Gamez-Ruiz. Gamez-Ruiz is accused of hitting and killing Trooper Cody Donahue while driving a truck on Interstate 25 outside of Castle Rock on Nov. 25, 2016.
The second mistrial happened on Feb. 15.
In the ruling, Judge Whitaker said, “the court has now found a pattern of discovery violations” in the case.
Judge Whitaker wrote that the violation does not rise to the level of “willful conduct," but continued, “the haphazard preparation of the witnesses, in this case, has resulted in the defendant being deprived of the ability to fully defend himself.”
The judge sanctioned the DA’s office following the first mistrial by changing the original charge from Criminally Negligent Homicide penalty from a class 5 felony to a class 6 felony. Now the charge, which was the most serious charge against him, has been completely dropped from the case.
Following this decision, Gamez-Ruiz will continue to face charges of careless driving while passing an emergency vehicle resulting in death or serious bodily harm and careless driving. 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson said that prosecutors still have the option to charge the suspect with a felony, but the classification would need to be even higher than before. Robinson said that's highly unlikely.
"To have one discovery violation cause a mistrial in a major trial is a huge, huge mistake. To have it happen twice is almost unprecedented," said Robinson. "This case is now a misdemeanor traffic case. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s nothing. You can be sent to jail if you are found guilty of careless driving resulting in death but it’s certainly a significant reduction in the original class five felony."
Brauchler ran to become the state attorney general in November. The race went to Democrat Phil Weiser. Brauchler is best-known for prosecuting the case against the Aurora theater shooter, in which he tried to convince the jury to impose a death penalty. The shooter was sentenced to life in prison.
9NEWS reached out to Brauchler Friday evening, but a spokesperson said he had not yet seen the order and could not comment.
According to Robinson, a prosecutor wouldn't be punished beyond a sanction in a scenario like this unless someone files a formal complaint to the disciplinary counsel of the Colorado Supreme Court. The counsel would have to believe further discipline is required.
Still, even the sanction alone is rare, Robinson told 9NEWS.
"Discovery violations are not uncommon. When an act is done without intent it almost never results in an attorney being sanctioned by the supreme court. But the sanction at trial is still a devastating blow to prosecution," he said.
Donahue, an 11-year CSP veteran, was out of his patrol car assisting Trooper Mathew Normandin with investigating another crash that day when he was hit and instantly killed by a truck.
Normandin, a 10-year CSP veteran, was the lead investigator on the initial crash. According to court testimony, Donahue showed up about 10 to 15 minutes later, and both men parked their patrol cars completely in the right shoulder while investigating the single-car crash.
Normandin testified in court that he was inside his patrol vehicle when Donahue was struck. He said he saw it happen, and that he jumped out his car and immediately called over the radio, "Officer down, officer down!"
Normandin said he ran up to Donahue and could clearly see that he was dead, and that he "stood there in shock" after it happened.
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Byrnes said in opening statements that Gamez-Ruiz had "plenty of opportunity" on the "clear and open road to move over."
"The defendant had the knowledge, training and experience to avoid killing Trooper Donahue that day," Byrnes said.
Defense Attorney Steve Burstein said the case was a "tragic accident."
"It is an accident, and nothing more and nothing less," Burstein said.
According to Robinson, the district attorney's office can appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, which can decide whether it wants to hear the case.
Following Trooper Donahue's death, Colorado passed the "Move Over for Cody Act." The law stiffens penalties for drivers who fail to move over for emergency vehicles and cause injury accidents.
This story draws on previous reporting from Katie Eastman and Allison Sylte.
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