BEND, Ore. - (Update: Judge denies claim of gag order violation; more Thursday testimony; hearing continues Friday)
After another day of a pre-trial hearing Thursday, there is still no ruling on whether or not a recorded interrogation and alleged confession by Edwin Lara in last year's abduction and killing of Kaylee Sawyer will be admissible at a trial currently scheduled for October of 2018.
The judge overseeing the case ruled earlier Thursday that Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel did not violate the court's "gag order" by providing documents and other evidence to the attorney for the victim's family.
Circuit Judge Michael Adler rejected the arguments made in a motion filed by Lara's defense lawyers, claiming the provision of evidence to the family and the DA's "inflammatory" statements to the media were violations of the strict order not to discuss details of the case in public.
The judge noted that he'd ruled last November that the DA was not prohibited from discussing the case with the family or disclosing evidence to them. Adler did not mention the other allegations, regarding Hummel's public statements.
After a brief recess, the expected final day of testimony in a pre-trial motions hearing resumed Thursday morning.
Lara’s defense lawyers noted Thursday that after his arrest, Lara had asked deputies, “Is my lawyer almost here?”
They also suggested that a California officer misstated the law by saying he can get a lawyer when he gets a phone call, and argued it was a violation of Lara’s Miranda rights.
On the taped statement, Lara also says, “I want to tell you where the body is, I do, but I want to go home first.” Defense lawyers said that indicated he was invoking his right to remain silent, but that deputies and officers ignored that and kept talking to Lara until he began to talk again.
The prosecution responded to this argument by saying that Lara's question, "Is my lawyer almost here?" is not a request at all because there is no reference to speaking with an attorney. The prosecution also said Lara's Miranda rights had been explained to him and Lara indicated that he understood.
Lara's background in criminal justice is also mentioned as a reason for Lara to have a clear understanding of his rights. However in response to this, the defense lawyers said the background of Lara shouldn't matter.
The prosecution proceeded to play several recordings of Lara speaking to people in order to show that he was willing to talk about what happened.
And during the California interrogation, after his arrest, he was asked if he needed anything, which the prosecution said offered Lara an opportunity to ask for a lawyer.
The defense then discussed a hypothetical question: What would have happened if the California interrogation didn't happen? The defense said that without the interrogation, the car that Lara left in the Ross Dress for Less parking lot may not have been found and the note on the car may not have been correctly interpreted.
Also, the defense said, Sawyers body might not have been found two days after the killing.
Due to the testimony, there was no time available for a ruling. The pre-trial motions hearing will continue Friday morning.
Wednesday’s pre-trial motions hearing for Edwin Lara, the former COCC security officer accused of abducting and killing Kaylee Sawyer, moved from testimony about his comments after his arrest in California to a new accusation by defense lawyers that DA John Hummel had violated a strict “gag order” in the case.
Several witnesses called Wednesday, the second of three days of hearings this week, testified about statements Lara made while in the Tehama County, California Jail after his arrest last July.
Deschutes County Circuit Judge Michael Adler is expected to rule Thursday, after hearings that began in July, on whether Lara’s statements and reputed confession will be admissible at his trial, currently scheduled for October 2018.
Clayton Frits, a correctional deputy in Tehama County, said, “I recall Mr. Lara saying that he wanted to speak to the Oregon investigators and that ‘she’ had nothing to do with it. I’m assuming that was in regards to female he was arrested with” — a woman he allegedly carjacked in Salem, Oregon and forced to drive south into California.
A private investigator, Victor Montano, said, “The deputy first told me that the only thing he recalled was having a brief conversation with Mr. Lara saying something towards him, to the effect of wanting to speak to an Oregon public defender..”
However, Frits had said earlier on the stand, “I don’t recall saying ‘Oregon public defender. I believe I said ‘Oregon investigator.’”
The defense also called an entomologist to the witness stand to establish a possible timeline of decomposition if Sawyer’s body had not been found west of Redmond on July 26, 2016, two days after she was killed.
Later Wednesday, Lara’s defense lawyers argued their motion claiming Hummel had made “inflammatory” statements in the media, violating Adler’s order barring public comments in the case, both in an interview and a letter to the media.
They also said he released 2,700 items of discovery (evidence), such as statements, transcripts and recordings, to the Sawyer family’s attorney, as they prepared a later-filed wrongful death suit.
They said the DA’s actions had prejudiced the case.
Asked about the allegations, Hummel told NewsChannel 21 simply: “I did not violate the gag order.”
The district attorney challenged Adler’s gag order last fall, saying it violated freedom of speech and infringed on his ability to consult with Sawyer’s family about plea negotiations. The judge then loosened the terms of his order, saying it does not pertain to speaking with the victim’s family, only regarding comments to the media.
Adler expects to rule on the motions Thursday