News5 took a closer look at two new motions filed by accused murderer Letecia Stauch's defense team, which make certain claims about how the judicial process is being impacted by the pandemic.
One of the motions asked for Stauch's upcoming hearings to be delayed, and the other requested video visitation access or for her to be released on bond. The defense claimed the only option for counsel to advise their client was to physically enter the jail, and the motion said they did not do that for fear of spreading the virus. The motion also asserted the jail cannot guarantee an inmate does not have coronavirus, because not all of them have been tested.
"You get curious, whether, hey are these legitimate COVID-19 precautions, versus is there some gamesmanship going on between the prosecution and the defense. Why is it all the sudden an issue in May, when it wasn't an issue all the way through March and April, when arguably things were more restrictive," said Attorney Stephen Longo, who weighed in on the motions.
Longo said the sheer amount of evidence in this case could have been reason enough for the defense to ask for an extension, but the pandemic has also created complications in the criminal justice system. "From the defense's perspective, with the stakes this high, with this much evidence, anything less than full access to their client is not sufficient. And I think that's a fine argument to make in these circumstances," Longo said.
Longo believes it is likely the motion asking for the hearings to be delayed will be approved, but he doubts the bond motion will have the same outcome. He has seen lots of motions filed lately to continue cases, both criminal and civil.
News5 also spoke with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Media Relations Manager Jacqueline Kirby to discuss their current precautions at the jail because of COVID-19. Kirby spoke in general terms throughout the interview, and is not referencing the Stauch case specifically. There is a gag order on the Stauch case.
Kirby said the jail has implemented a strict screening process for anyone being booked into the facility, which also is performed on the arresting officer.
"That does include a temperature scan, a series of questions to know if they should be isolated, or if they should be tested. The robust and quick changes that we made have helped keep our inmate population free from COVID-19," Kirby said.
She also said at the start of the pandemic, they faced challenges in securing cleaning products, but no longer have that issue. Still, they have had to get creative, because they cannot use hand sanitizers that contain alcohol or cleaning products with bleach in them. Plus, they cannot give inmates masks that have wires in them, as those could be used as a weapon.
Certain protocols put into place because of the pandemic have also reduced their inmate population by around 30% since the start of the year. As of Tuesday morning, there were 985 inmates at the jail. "Because of our decreased population, we have been able to have wards that are completely empty where we can isolate inmates, whether they have come into contact with somebody who is COVID-19 positive, or whether they are symptomatic," said Kirby.
Kirby said their online visitation system, where people can call inmates from the comfort of their own home, is operated through a vendor called Black Creek and typically has a small fee associated with it. She said Black Creek has waived that fee since the pandemic started. Those video visitations are still an option for attorneys to consult with their clients.
There's typically a facility on the jail's campus where people can physically go to meet virtually with an inmate, but that space is currently closed because of social distancing guidelines. "We still do not have our video visitation facility up and running, but the online visits have and will continue to remain an option for people to visit their clients and or loved ones," said Kirby.
The guidelines for Special Management Wards are a bit different. Stauch is held in one of these wards. Inmates within them get one hour of "unlock" time during the day. "The Special Management Wards have always been a challenge to facilitate online visitations during business hours, because of the myriad of things that happen, and the limited time that the individuals in those Special Management Wards have. It's very difficult to offer the professional online visit and still allow for the regular operation of that ward... Attorneys have the ability to visit with their clients after 8:30 in the evening, online, free of charge, because we recognize that there is a concern of coming into the jail," said Kirby.
Video visitations are scheduled through the online vendor, Black Creek, and not through the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office coordinates in person visits, and can help if a person is experiencing technical difficulties trying to schedule an online visit.