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People v. Larsen

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

April 24, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner:
v.
Emmett Andrew Larsen. Respondent:

         Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 14CA487

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General Rebecca A. Adams, Senior Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado.

          Attorneys for Respondent: Lord Law Firm, LLC Kathleen A. Lord Denver, Colorado.

          OPINION

          RICE CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 This case, a companion to People v. Jacobson, 2017 CO 28, ___ P.3d ___, requires us to determine whether a trial court abused its discretion by refusing to poll the jury about whether jurors had seen a news report about the case that had been posted online and ran in a local newspaper. Here, the trial court gave repeated admonitions not to seek out news about the case-including just before the newspaper released the story. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to poll the jury after a newspaper published a prejudicial news report with limited distribution. We therefore reverse the court of appeals and affirm the defendant's conviction.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2 Defendant Emmett Andrew Larsen is the father of S.L. and the grandfather of S.L.'s children, A.H. and K.H. S.L., along with A.H. and K.H., moved to Colorado to live with Larsen. While in Colorado, K.H. told a therapist that her uncle, T.J., had sexually abused her. A Department of Human Services ("DHS") caseworker interviewed both A.H. and K.H.

         ¶3 During the interview, K.H. said T.J. had abused her but did not accuse Larsen of abusing her. A.H., on the other hand, told the caseworker that Larsen had touched her breasts and vaginal area. In a follow-up interview, A.H. again accused Larsen of abusing her. K.H. again stated that Larsen had never touched her inappropriately. Larsen was arrested, and the People charged Larsen with one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust as part of a pattern of abuse and two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust.

         ¶4 During jury selection, the trial court admonished the prospective jurors to avoid media coverage of the case:

You must not read, view, or listen to any reports about the case in the press or on radio, television, or any other type of electronic media. And this includes the Internet. You are not to Google anything about this case. You are not to do any individual investigation about anything.

         The trial court, after the jury was sworn in, again admonished the jury members to avoid media coverage of the case:

[D]o not read or listen to any accounts or discussions of the case that may be reported by newspaper or other publications or by television or radio. And that also includes any Internet information, any court blogs. You are not to go Google anything about this case.

         ¶5 Then, at trial, A.H. testified-in contrast to her interviews-that Larsen had touched her breasts but not her vaginal area. K.H. testified-also in contrast to her interviews-that Larsen had, in fact, inappropriately touched her breasts. In a transcribed phone call between Larsen and S.L. admitted at trial, Larsen admitted that he had touched K.H.'s breast. The trial court also admitted a recorded phone call in which Larsen admitted that he had inappropriately touched his daughter when she was young.

         ¶6 After the close of evidence, but before the trial court dismissed the jurors for the weekend, the trial court noted that a news reporter was in attendance. The trial court took this as an opportunity to again ...


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