By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
The suspect in the Feb. 16 murder, Arturo Navarrete-Portillo, is trying to keep quiet and prevent prosecutors, or anyone else, from gaining access to a variety of documents and types of information related to the slashing death of his wife, Maria Carminda Portillo-Amaya, 30.
Navarrete-Portillo, 46, was formally arrested on March 4, after spending more than two weeks in a hospital in Grand Junction, recovering from injuries he sustained in a traffic accident on the morning his wife died in an apartment on the west side of Carbondale.
The warrant for his arrest, and a supporting affidavit that contains the reasons police believe he is the murderer, remain sealed on orders from Ninth Judicial District Judge James Boyd, although the judge has indicated the documents may be unsealed and released for public inspection at the end of March.
According to court documents, Navarrete-Portillo either is or recently has been a resident of Basalt, although police reported at the time of the murder that he and his late wife were living in an apartment on Cooper Place, which is where her body was found by police in the afternoon of Feb. 16.
Others also were living in the apartment, although police have not indicated the other residents are implicated in the killing or considered suspects in any other way.
Navarrete-Portillo is being held without the possibility of bonding out at the Garfield County Jail, and has appeared in court at least twice in the past two weeks, reportedly in a wheelchair. He is being represented by the state’s public defender’s office.
While the arrest warrant and affidavit remain sealed, the rest of the file on the case against Navarrete-Portillo is open to public inspection.
Flurry of motions
A flurry of motions were filed on March 15, by public defender Sara Steele and by the District Attorney’s office, including a defense motion aimed at limiting pre-trial publicity on the case by asking Judge Boyd to gag the attorneys involved in the case and prevent them from discussing it with the media or the public.
In addition, Steele and her office have filed motions hoping to “preserve and produce any and all items of evidence” obtained during the investigation and arrest, including notes police officers took at the time. The defense motion, which had not been signed by the judge as of Monday, noted that “it is the practice of law enforcement to destroy their notes” and asked the judge to specifically prohibit such actions by officers involved in the case.
The defense also hopes to prohibit prosecutors from obtaining jail records related to visitation logs that may have involved the defendant, as well as any medical reports, psychiatric reports, hair samples and “buccal swabs” typically taken from the inside of a defendant’s mouth.
The DA’s office, also on March 15, objected to a defense motion that would lead to production of correspondence between law enforcement officers and the DA, and to the motion prohibiting the taking of hair and buccal swabs.
But as of March 13, no motions had been filed on a central issue — whether or not the warrant and affidavit should be unsealed.
At a hearing on March 10, a deputy district attorney asked the judge to unseal the documents, but Steele told the judge her office objected to that move and probably would file a formal motion to that effect.
DA Sherry Caloia told the Sopris Sun on March 5, in an e-mail exchange about the case, that she had no objection to the documents being made public.
“It is sealed, but not by my doing,” Caloia wrote. “I did want it to be unsealed but the court on its own said he was keeping it sealed.”
March 23 deadline
The judge gave Steele until March 23 to file a formal objection to unsealing the documents, and indicated that if no motion is filed the documents might be made public on March 31, which is the date the judge set for a hearing on all motions.
The affidavit, in addition to providing details about how police went about their initial investigation of the killing, may contain information about how the victim died, what kind of weapon was used, whether others might have known of the crime and how much they may have known.
Police only heard about the crime on the afternoon of Feb. 16, although the victim is believed to have died early in the morning.
According to police, Navarrete-Portillo was on a medical flight to Grand Junction for treatment of two broken legs and other injuries from the accident, which happened shortly after 7 a.m., when he informed the flight crew that he had killed his wife earlier that day.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling told The Sopris Sun that his department did not learn of that alleged statement until early afternoon, and did not begin a search at the apartment until about 2 p.m.