CANYON CITY – A 20-year-old Grant County murder mystery remains unsolved.
Grant County Circuit Court Judge William D. Cramer Jr. last week dismissed the case against Thomas Allen Colbert, finding no “legitimate reason” for the delay in his indictment on murder charges in February 2012.
“There can be no ‘fundamentally fair’ trial of Mr. Colbert at this stage,” Cramer wrote in a ruling on the defense’s motion to dismiss.
Grant County District Attorney Ryan Joslin said last week he won’t appeal the decision.
Colbert was released from the county jail after the ruling.
The Indian Springs, Nev., resident was one of two men indicted by a Grant County grand jury last year on charges stemming from the death of Danny Kaye Sweet.
Both Colbert and George S. Bogan of Roseburg were accused of aggravated murder and murder in the case.
Last September the prosecution dropped all charges against Bogan and he was released. At that time, Joslin said a key prosecution witness in the Bogan case turned out to be unreliable.
The unraveling of that case also prompted the dismissal of a charge of aggravated murder against Colbert, leaving him facing a sole count of murder – the charge that was dismissed last week.
The judge’s ruling came in response to a motion for dismissal filed by defense attorneys Duane J. McCabe and Geoffrey J. Gokey on Jan. 17. They argued that the government had no justification for “gross delay in this case.”
They said an Oregon State Police detective, now retired, had brought the case to every Grant County district attorney, but one, in the past 15 years.
According to court documents, the state’s case was that Sweet was killed in October 1992, and that he had last been seen in Mitchell with Colbert. Sweet’s skeletal remains were found by horn hunters north of Mt. Vernon in 1996.
The defense attorneys argued that the government failed to prove those facts. They said Colbert would be unable to present exculpatory evidence because key witnesses – including his father, grandmother, former Sheriff Fred Reusser, and a woman who witnessed a bar confrontation – have died. They argued that others who would testify to seeing Sweet after that date are dead or cannot be found.
Still unresolved is the source of a lock of hair seized by police from Colbert’s pickup truck in the late 1990s. Colbert told police the hair was saved from the first haircut of his son, William, while the prosecution wanted to show that the hair was Sweet’s.
Colbert’s attorneys said their client is “denied the opportunity to do comparison testing on the hair …” to prove his claim because William died in 2007.
Joslin said the prosecution thought advances in the FBI’s DNA testing procedures would identify the hair as Sweet’s, but the results were still inconclusive. Even without that new testing, Joslin said he felt the state had a responsiblity to present its other evidence to the grand jury.
“And the grand jury chose to indict,” he said.
Cramer noted in his ruling, however, that the grand jury indicted based on evidence that had been selected by the state.
The judge found that all the material facts in the case were known to the state by 1999 or 2000, and the “vast majority of what appears to be the information on which the state relies actually was compiled by 1996.”
The dismissal without prejudice means new charges could be filed in the case in the future.Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.