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Caudle housing still undecided

Posted: Wednesday, Feb 3rd, 2010

DEL NORTE With tight courtroom security, the family of one alleged victim in the gallery and a full array of lawyers and expert advisors surrounding him, double homicide suspect John Caudle, 14, heard another chapter of his fate debated Tuesday.

After an almost-all-day hearing, the issue of where he will be housed is still up in the air, since 12th Judicial District Judge Martin Gonzales will render a written decision and both prosecution and defense will submit briefs by Feb. 19. Gonzales suggested whatever is decided will likely be appealed.

The current question regards the constitutionality of housing Caudle in the Rio Grande County Detention Center rather than Pueblo Youth Services Center (PYSC), where he is currently being held. State law requires adult homicide suspects to be in jail unless both prosecution and defense can agree on another option.

In this case, they can't. Caudle's formal advisement and plea await the judge's ruling.

Caudle has reportedly been under suicide watch at PYSC, but has been receiving mental health counseling and attending school there.

He is accused of killing both his mother, Joanne Rinebarger, 34, and his stepfather, Tracy Rinebarger, 38, around 6 p.m. Oct. 26, 2009, at the family home on Rock Creek Road Southwest of Monte Vista.

The youth is charged with two counts of first degree murder after deliberation; two counts of first degree assault with a deadly weapon, a handgun, against both his mother and stepfather; second degree aggravated motor vehicle theft involving a pickup truck belonging to Tracy Rinebarger, theft involving credit cards and currency belonging to Tracy, two counts of mandatory sentencing for a violent crime causing death and two counts of violent crime causing serious bodily injury using a deadly weapon.

Public Defender Daniel Walzl has contended that moving Caudle to the county jail, where he would have to be confined away from adult inmates, would be considered punishment and a violation of due process.

He is assisted by Deputy Public Defender Amada Hopkins and State Deputy Public Defender Ann Roan.

Prosecutors Geoff Rieman and Special Deputy District Attorney Daniel W. Edwards of the Colorado Attorney General's Office contend that state law must be followed and that the sheriff can make provisions for housing Caudle in Rio Grande County.

Walzl first questioned whether there was a conflict of interest in Ruth Acheson being Caudle's guardian ad litem because of some possible communication with another PYSC inmate for whom she is performing the same services.

Judge Gonzales said he saw no conflict because the guardian ad litem is not bound by the same confidentiality as an attorney. Acheson will continue in her appointed post.

If Caudle is placed in a county jail he will have to be isolated from all other prisoners. This, according to Acheson, would have the affect of putting Caudle in solitary confinement.

She said presumption of innocence is a foundation of the American justice system and it would be cruel and unusual punishment to put a child in solitary confinement.

After listed witnesses were sequestered, Walzl called Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton to the stand.

After asking Norton to state his law enforcement background, Walzll asked about the overall capacity of the jail and Norton replied, 62, with an average daily census of between 35 and 45 inmates.

At present, there are 40 persons in jail, Norton said.

Walzl asked how many could be considered violent offenders and how many are facing charges relating to child abuse, and Norton said he didn't know of any.

Norton examined the current jail population list and told Walzl housing Caudle wouldn't affect the male population, but might be a problem if there happened to be a spike in female population. "If that happens, I would send the females out," he said, since there are only eight beds for them.

Walzl asked how those conditions would affect the jail's ability to house Caudle and Norton said it wouldn't cause a problem, since the youth would be held in the trustee housing.

Walzl questioned whether taking access to services away from a juvenile might be punitive in nature and Edwards cited high court opinions that suggested it wasn't if there was no express intent to punish.

Edwards said the hearing was limited by how the issues were defined by the defense brief.

Walzl said the argument was the difference between how Caudle is being treated at PYSC versus how he would be treated in the county jail.

Questioned further by Walzl regarding contact between the sheriff and prosecution regarding separating Caudle from the rest of the jail population, Norton said he did not confer with the prosecution, since "the sheriff has the ability to run his own jail and make his own decisions."

Next on the stand was Annette Dietrich, PYSC director, who said she had ben working with juveniles since 1980 and detailed her experience, as well as the way Caudle is being housed.

Dietrich said the center has three "pods," A, which offers orientation to newcomers to the system, B, which houses older or aggressive males and C, which holds youthful males and the female inmates. Caudle is housed in C.

Dietrich said a school program is offered Monday through Friday and there is limited access between residents. A library is provided on premises and access to mental health treatment is available, along with a social worker on-site.

Closer supervision is done on suicide watch cases and medical care is provided.

If convicted, Caudle will reportedly serve two consecutive 40-year terms in prison.

For the complete article see the 02-03-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-03-2010 paper.

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