Mueller to be retried
Gunnison to play host for murder trial, again
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-02-21
Discussion at a hearing regarding the status of the murder case against Frederick Mueller this week focused entirely on whether a change of venue would be necessary for a new trial.
Though the case’s proceedings two weeks ago resulted in a mistrial, there was no talk of acquittal.
The majority of the players attended the status hearing Tuesday via telephone, including the defense team, Mueller, prosecutors and various members of the press.
The Texas businessman was first tried for first-degree murder in the death of his wife Leslie Mueller, in a set of proceedings that ended in a mistrial Feb. 9. Eleven of 12 jurors did not believe that evidence in the case pointed unequivocally to Mueller’s guilt.
In a letter to the Times this week, six of those jurors noted that their verdict should not imply that they believed Mueller was innocent.
“A verdict of not-guilty means the prosecution was unable to present sufficient evidence to allow 11 of us to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” they wrote. “In fact, the majority of the jury felt the defendant’s account of the incident was highly suspicious and that he was most likely guilty, but suspicion and speculation are different from proof.”
Leslie Mueller was found dead in Cottonwood Creek near the couple’s Lake City vacation home in May 2008. Investigators didn’t believe Mueller’s account of events — that his wife fell off a 15-foot cliff above the creek, landed on her head and shoulder on a granite slab below, and was carried downstream through a series of waterfalls and pools.
Leslie Mueller was found face-down with her head under a log and her feet pointed upstream in a shallow section of the creek. Forensic pathologist Michael Benziger of Montrose determined the cause of death to be drowning.
Four years later, her husband was arrested at his business in San Angelo, Texas, accused of premeditated murder in the death of his wife. Frederick Mueller was held in the Gunnison County jail until the conclusion of the mistrial, after which he was released n $150,000 bond. He was also required to surrender his passport.
This week, prosecutors requested that the trial’s venue be moved to Lake City, near where the alleged crime was committed. But defense attorney Mike DeGeurin expressed concern that the change in venue could make a jury hard to form.
“It wouldn’t work ... let’s be realistic. Getting 350 people for the Lake City (jury) questionnaire would be pretty hard to do,” DeGeurin argued. “The reason it was changed from Lake City in the first place still seems to be the case. ...”
The jury pool for the first trial was 600, which Judge J. Steven Patrick pointed out would come close to the total population of Hinsdale County.
Patrick agreed with the defense that a trial in Lake City would be logistically difficult, though prosecutors tried to argue for a trial in the county where the alleged crime was committed.
“It seems to me that we’re only compounding or complicating the mechanics of getting this case tried by either further briefing or further arguing a trial in Lake City,” said Patrick. “I don’t think we can get enough people who would not have a hardship or another reason for disqualification in Hinsdale County.”
DeGeurin agreed to retry in Gunnison County.
“If we couldn’t get a jury of 14 in Gunnison, we would waive our right (for a speedy trial) at that time,” he said. “We’re prepared to stay in Gunnison and let the chips fall.”
The trial was rescheduled for April 29.
District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller indicated that the prosecution may have additional witnesses or evidence to present at the retrial.
“We continue to investigate the case and people contact us,” he said.
Patrick ruled that new witnesses and evidence must be entered into discovery no later than 30 days before the retrial and that any new information must be accompanied by a explanation of why it is important and why it was not entered into evidence for the first trial.
Another status conference is scheduled for April 12 at 1 p.m. in Gunnison.
(Laura Anderson can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)