A waiting game behind bars
(This is the second of a three-part series about the judicial process in Valencia County. The series takes a look at the frustration of some inmates and county officials experience regarding the length of time it takes to get a case resolved. The final story will report on the perspectives from the district attorney’s office, public defenders and a judge.)
Edward Jude Baca has been in the Valencia County Detention Center long enough that even the warden simply refers to him as “E.J.”
Baca was booked into the jail on Oct. 30, 2008, and he hasn’t been free since then. Baca is being held on a $150,000 cash or surety bond for the 2008 willful and deliberate first-degree murder of 56-year-old Joseph Montoya.
The 47-year-old enters the interview room in shackles, wearing the expected orange jumpsuit, looking for all the world like someone’s grandfather.
As the “senior” inmate of the jail, Baca seems equally frustrated and philosophical about his more than 1,500 days in jail.
When he was incarcerated in the fall of 2008, nearly four years ago, Baca was appointed a public defender. He says it was three months before he even met the man and then the attorney retired six months into his ordeal.
A second attorney was appointed to his case and it was yet another three months before meeting him, Baca says.
That attorney fell ill and after four to six months, Baca was appointed a third representative. He said she re-researched his case and requested a psychological evaluation.
“The report took a year and a half,” Baca said. “Why so long?”
He suspects it’s because the district attorney’s office is “stumbling over dollars to pick up pennies.” He cites the case of Ronnie Smith as an example.
In 2007, Smith was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon — specifically a knife and a baseball bat.
Smith bonded out and fled to Texas. He was extradited from the Lone Star State and booked into VCDC on Feb. 17, 2011.
“It was a 7-year-old case. Was it worth it? Why are they pursuing such an old case? There are too many sitting in here to chase those down,” Baca said. “I’d like to find out about that.”
The way he sees it, the court system takes too long.
“Attorneys don’t come and see people before the trial. Then you wait five months before you go before a judge, and then the attorney talks to you for five minutes,” he said.
“It comes down to people getting information and being allowed to study the case. The public defenders — are there enough? I think they need more for the county.”
The amount of time Baca has spent in jail is closely followed by that of William “Ice Man” Warwick. He was booked into the jail on Dec. 6, 2009, on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a controlled substance, four counts of possession of a firearm by a felon and other drug charges.
Warwick was released shortly after a jailhouse interview with the News-Bulletin.
In his opinion, the long pre-sentence times in jail comes down to the fact that the district attorney’s office doesn’t complete their cases within the time allowed by federal guidelines.
“That is our due process and right to a speedy trial,” Warwick said. “The court-appointed attorneys file motions, which stop time limitations instead of filing motions to dismiss for exceeding time limitations.”
Warwick said the public defenders fail to comply with their clients’ decisions, violating their own rules of professional conduct.
“Public defenders in Valencia County are instructed to convince defendants to sign plea bargains,” he said. “This is assisting the DA in achieving a conviction for the state, not assisting their clients.
“And when a client refuses to sign a plea bargain, they are forced to remain incarcerated instead of being allowed to go to trial by jury. This is inadequate counsel appointed by the courts,” he said.
“The judges in Valencia County refuse to uphold federal guidelines on time limitations for commencement of trial in regards to the Constitution of the United States.”
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