//Grand jury charge questioned in ex-deputy’s hitman-for-hire prosecution

Grand jury charge questioned in ex-deputy’s hitman-for-hire prosecution

By Terri Jo Neff

defense alleges lack of fairness in testimony, procedures
prosecutor argues jurors didn’t ask to hear recordings of calls

BISBEE – Israel Burkholder, the former Cochise County sheriff’s deputy arrested for planning an attack on his daughter’s alleged pimp, will be in court February 3 for a hearing on whether his case should be remanded (sent back) to the grand jury for a new determination of probable cause.
Adefense motion filed January 10contends Burkholder was denied “a substantial procedural right,” because some evidence presented to the county grand jury “was inaccurate, misleading or unfair.”
The filing argues that deputy county attorney Roger Contreras “failed to present evidence to the grand jury in a fair and impartial manner” by relying only on testimony from Sierra Vista Police Dept.’s corporal Damian Barron about what was said during some phone calls instead of playing recordings police made of those conversations.

Those discussions were between Burkholder and a longtimefemale acquaintance who is identified in court documents as a confidential informant.  Burkholder had reached out to the woman seeking help finding someone to attack and cripple Michael Mays of Sierra Vista, who the ex-deputy suspected of abusing his daughter, Jasmine Burkholder.
On November 10, at the end of Contreras’ presentation, the grand jury voted to indict Burkholder on charges of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and two drug crimes.
However, Burkholder asserts through attorney Eric Manch that if the grand jury had been allowed to hear the conversations they “would not have indicted on Count 1,” the conspiracy to commit first degree murder charge.
The defense also contends “exculpatory statements” or favorable comments made by Burkholder were not mentioned to the grand jury. In addition, the motion challenges what the grand jury was told about the relationship between Burkholder and woman, and the purpose of money Burkholder gave to her.
OnJanuary 25, prosecutor Contreras filed a responseto the motion which asserts “there was clear testimony presented to the grand jury” that Burkholder

“wavered between wanting the victim crippled… to wanting him killed or not caring if he ended up dead.”  Contreras also noted it was “abundantly clear to the grand jury” that many conversations had been recorded and if the grand jury wanted to hear those “they merely had to ask.”
The grand jurors, who serve four month terms, were more than half-way through their term and knew their powers, says the prosecutor’s response.
In addition, Contreras contends his presentation included “all evidence available” at the time “that was even potentially exculpatory.” He noted that the defense motion did not “identify any instance of the State’s failure to present clearly exculpatory evidence.” The prosecutor requested that judge Wallace Hoggatt deny the defense motion as it “lacks merit.”
Burkholder’s motion asks that as an alternative to remanding the case to the grand jury that judge Hoggatt order “a complete dismissal” of the first degree murder conspiracy charge.
Hoggatt will hear oral arguments from the parties at 9:00am on Friday in Division Three of the Cochise County Superior Court in Bisbee.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 and cjw_media@yahoo.com
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