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Rio Arriba sheriff responds to venue motions

Sheriff James Lujan

SANTA FE — The attorney for Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan says prosecutors “cherry-picked” jurors to support change-of-venue motions filed in two cases involving the lawman, the first of which ended in a hung jury this month.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles said in response to special prosecutor Andrea Rowley Reeb’s motions to move the trials that she based her argument on “hearsay” affidavits from four of 12 jurors in Lujan’s trial that ended June 4 in which he was charged with bribery of a witness and harboring or aiding a felon.

Reeb filed a motion earlier this week claiming witness intimidation and juror bias in the case. The motion says Lujan’s own deputies controlled courthouse security throughout the trial, held a barbecue in the courthouse parking lot in support of Lujan, and that jury members worried that deputies and others could hear their deliberations through the courthouse windows.

In response, Bowles asserts the change of venue is an “after-the-fact, sour grapes attempt to engineer or move to a county in which the state believes it will have the best chance to win. Rather than wanting a fair trial, the state wants a stacked trial, slanted as much as it can against Mr. Lujan.”

Bowles said the first trial was fair and argues that Lujan has a right to be tried in the community where the alleged crimes occurred.

Reeb’s initial motion proposed moving the trials to Chaves, Doña Ana or San Juan counties. She said she chose those counties because they had little to no publicity of the case, while Lujan’s court cases have received extensive media coverage in the 1st Judicial District.

But Bowles said 18 of the 31 news articles Reeb cited were from a news organization he claims is biased toward the Española Police Department.

Media coverage doesn’t necessarily equate to prejudice and that, if anything, news coverage was slanted against Lujan, he said in the motion.

But Reeb said in a phone interview that it’s not about the quantity of articles, but the saturation of the media coverage in the area.

“I think one of the biggest things here is (Lujan) is the elected official of that county,” she said. “Those are his voters, and the jurors expressed that they were not comfortable because he had so much power in that county.”

Lujan is also charged with three counts of resisting, evading or obstructing an officer in a trial scheduled to begin July 26.