WALSENBURG — Some criminal cases seem open and shut; the jury result a foregone conclusion by many observers, but when the testimony is over, the jury charged with their duty, anything can happen.
Many of those who observed the first degree murder trial of Ralph Candelario spoke of exactly those kind of feelings. The prosecution having made a strong case, presenting a large number of lay and expert witnesses and the defense having very little to work with. Witnesses clad in prison uniforms testifying to what other individuals said, and in one case, a witness not called as he had told the defense team he would only invoke his Fifth Amendment Constitutional Right against self incrimination.
With seven days of testimony finished, the five woman, seven man jury heard closing statements by both the defense and prosecution on Tuesday, March 8 in the cavernous district courtroom in Trinidad, Colorado.
Dateline NBC’s remotely operated cameras captured the drama and tomorrow night viewers will have the opportunity to watch the venerated news magazine’s take on the case that has been on the minds of Huerfano County residents for more than two years.
Third Judicial District Judge Claude Appel thoroughly explained the instructions to the jury and sent them into the closed jury room to deliberate the fate of the Walsenburg businessman who was accused of the brutal death of his wife, Pamela, in mid-January 2014.
The jury would deliberate the remainder of that Tuesday and all day Wednesday. Many who waited in the marble hallways of the Las Animas County Courthouse expected a quick verdict. As Tuesday ended and Wednesday began it was obvious the jurors, who were attentive and interested throughout the case, would not be rushed.
V.M., a Las Animas County resident, selected as one of the jurors in the case had never even been called for jury duty before. V.M.’s first experience as a juror came in a highly publicized first degree murder case that had gained national attention.
In a conversation shortly after the verdict, V.M. gave a brief, behind-the-scenes, glance at what took place behind the closed doors of the jury room.
When the first informal vote was taken Tuesday, the count was 9 to 3 for conviction.
For the prosecution it is an all or nothing proposal. When the jury was given its instructions there were no lesser included offenses for them to consider. They were charged with deciding whether the defendant was guilty or not guilty of first degree murder and tampering with evidence and nothing else.
V.M. said two fellow jurors believed the defendant not guilty and the other, guilty; but of second degree murder, a count not included in the jury’s instructions.
Voting, conversations, and even heated debate would follow. No one seemed to be moving from their stated positions. The jury did not take secret ballots, all 12 knew where the others stood on the question of guilty or not guilty.
The jurors continued deliberations on Wednesday, the one who believed the defendant guilty of second degree murder changed their mind. As Wednesday’s deliberations dragged on for both the victim and defendant’s family members and supporters, prosecutor Ryan Brackley was asked if he was worried. “Not yet,” he said, “If we’re still here Friday, I’ll be concerned.” He, like everyone else awaiting a decision in the case, had no idea what was going on behind those closed doors.
V.M. said as the 5 o’ clock hour approached the jury now seemed deadlocked; 10 for conviction, and two holding onto their not guilty stance.
The jury foreman, according to V.M., had their hand on the doorknob of the jury room, about to open the door and tell the court’s bailiff the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. Then, V.M. told the World Journal, another juror suggested they sleep on it one more night, and if by the noon break they continued to be deadlocked they would make the news known to the court.
Thursday came and the 10 members who now stood firmly in the guilty camp, asked the two others to talk about what was bothering them about the case. Discussions led another look at some of the evidence, photographs in particular.
The jurors studied the photos in question. One depicted blood droplets on the floor of the Candelario kitchen, blood droplets that trailed from the victim’s body to where the suspected murder weapon, a fireplace poker, was leaned against a wall. It was obvious after its use for the unintended purpose of dealing at least two deadly blows to the victim, it had been put back in its usual resting place.
The other photograph would be key, destroying another portion of the defendant’s story. Testimony of Candelario on video tape made during his interrogation by Colorado Bureau of Investigation agents, showed the defendant telling agents he, at one point in his captivity by the two home invaders he said killed his wife, was allowed to go to his garage to get the intruders some money he had hidden under a candle. He had also told law enforcement investigators he had tried to retrieve a shotgun that was located in an upper level of the garage. Candelario had also written down this portion of his story in the public statement he had published in the then-Huerfano World Journal. The photograph showed without a doubt there was a shotgun in a case in the upper level of the garage. The shotgun case shown in the photograph was pristine, clean and free of dust, unlike every other surface in that upper area of the compact brick outbuilding. The fact the case had been placed in the location to support the defendant’s story, and had not lay there for a long time was not lost on the two remaining jurors.
A unanimous decision had been reached and early Thursday afternoon the guilty verdict was announced.