PROVO After nearly two years and five disqualified attorneys, a man charged with murder for allegedly stabbing his friend in the neck will go to trial.
Fourth District Court Judge Gary Stott ruled Thursday that Jesus Manuel Holguin-Albo, 29, can still be prosecuted by the Utah County Attorney's Office, but Stott dismissed two attorneys from that office who might become witnesses themselves.
"I've done all I can do to exercise my responsibility to provide a fair trial (for the) defendant," Stott said.
The concern began last week, a week before trial, after prosecutor Guy Probert talked with a witness. Probert said that during the interview, the witness said something different than she had said before.
"I asked her something that would establish it was different and realized that by doing so, I said something that could lead her to change her story," Probert told the Deseret Morning News.
After the interview, Probert said he realized the potential concerns and quickly talked with the County Attorney's Office, the defense attorneys and the court.
In a hearing a few days later, Stott ruled that because Probert, "through actions the court does not find improper or inappropriate," could possibly become a witness, it would be necessary to take him off the case, according to court records.
And just to be safe Stott initially removed the entire County Attorney's Office from the case. However, they filed a motion in response, asking that he reconsider and asking for time to research and defend their point.
Arguing the motion Thursday, Kennard emphasized that no one else from the County Attorney's Office had been in that interview and thus their entire office whose job it is to prosecute cases in the county shouldn't be taken off the case. Plus, disqualifying the County Attorney's Office would delay the case again.
The case, filed after a fight turned fatal at a Provo home on May 21, 2006, was first delayed in July 2006.
The court became aware that a bloody shirt and knife had been picked up by attorneys from the Utah County Public Defender's Office, after being left by police at the crime scene.
A witness had called the defense attorneys to say that when she went to clean the apartment, a bloody knife and T-shirt were still there, and that detectives hadn't returned her calls to come get them.
The public defender responded that police had seen the evidence there the night of the crime but ignored it.
But nevertheless, public defenders Gunda Jarvis and Barbara Gonzales were taken off the case and Stott appointed attorney Paige Benjamin.
Then, last January, one of the prosecution's witnesses struck up a conversation with Benjamin at a bank, making incriminating statements and talking about the case.
Benjamin told the judge he couldn't continue on the case since he might called as a witness, and Stott appointed two new attorneys, Scott Williams and Brook Sessions.
Everything was go for trial until Probert came forward with his recent concern.
It's the first time in recent memory that a Utah County prosecutor has been kicked off a case, let alone two, said County Attorney Jeff Buhman.
Normally they try to sort out potential conflicts of interest before the cases even get assigned, he said.
Sessions said he wasn't pushing for the entire office to be removed, but wanted a judge's ruling to ensure a fair trial.
It's hard for Holguin-Albo to understand, however, why the entire Public Defender's Office had to be removed over the bloody shirt and knife, but the entire County Attorney's office was not.
"He feel's like there's been a great injustice," Williams said.A pre-trial conference was set on Jan. 31 at 11 a.m.