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People v. Ray

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division A

March 8, 2018

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Robert K. Ray, Defendant, and Concerning Greta Lindecrantz, Respondent-Appellant.

         Arapahoe County District Court No. 06CR697 Honorable Michelle A. Amico, Judge

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Matthew Grove, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Appellee

          Killmer, Lane & Newman, L.L.P., Mari Newman, Denver, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant

          OPINION

          J. JONES JUDGE.

         ¶ 1 Greta Lindecrantz appeals the trial court's order holding her in direct contempt for refusing to testify pursuant to the People's subpoena in this Crim. P. 32.2 proceeding. She contends that requiring her to testify in response to questions posed by the prosecutor on direct examination violates her rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution. We conclude, however, that any potential burden on those rights must give way to the state's paramount interests in ascertaining the truth and rendering justice. So we affirm.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 The People charged Robert K. Ray with the first degree murder of Javad Marshall-Fields, and sought the death penalty. His attorneys hired Ms. Lindecrantz as an investigator to assist them, primarily, it appears, in the penalty phase of the case. A jury found Ray guilty and determined that he should be sentenced to death for his crime. The court imposed that sentence.

         ¶ 3 As required by both statute and rule, the trial court then began the postconviction review of Ray's conviction and sentence. See §§ 16-12-201 to -210, C.R.S. 2017; Crim. P. 32.2. In that proceeding, Ray seeks postconviction relief, claiming that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance. Part of that claim challenges Ms. Lindecrantz's investigation (as well as that of her colleagues). The prosecution served her with a subpoena to testify. She moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that as a devout Mennonite she is opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds, and that she feared that by truthfully answering the prosecutor's questions she would provide information from which the prosecutor could argue that Ray received effective assistance. That, in turn, could result in the court denying Ray's ineffective assistance claim and, consequently, upholding the conviction and death sentence.

         ¶ 4 In a thorough, well-reasoned written order, the trial court denied Ms. Lindecrantz's motion to quash. In short, the court ruled that whether rational basis or strict scrutiny analysis applies, Ms. Lindecrantz's sincerely held religious beliefs don't justify refusing to answer the prosecutor's questions under oath in response to the People's subpoena.

         ¶ 5 When the prosecutor called Ms. Lindecrantz to the stand, the trial court explained to her the obligation to testify, the concept of contempt, and the potential consequences if she refused to testify. Nonetheless, Ms. Lindecrantz refused to answer the prosecutor's questions. The court continued to warn her, but she persisted in insisting that her religious beliefs precluded her from answering. The court found her in direct contempt and remanded her to the sheriff's custody "until she elects to answer the questions" as a remedial sanction. The court declined to stay its order, and so Ms. Lindecrantz has been in jail since February 26 of this year.

         ¶ 6 Ms. Lindecrantz appeals the order finding her in contempt. But her claim has changed somewhat. She now says that being called as a witness for the prosecution makes her a "tool" or "weapon" of the prosecutor's effort to execute Ray. She would answer questions posed by the trial court on direct examination, and questions posed on cross-examination by the prosecutor and defense counsel. She doesn't want to answer questions posed by the prosecutor on direct examination. On March 2, the trial court rejected that proposed procedure (a matter we'll get to later).

         ¶ 7 We've handled this appeal in a greatly expedited way in light of Ms. Lindecrantz's imprisonment, concerns about her health, and the pendency of the Rule 32.2 proceeding in the trial court. See C.A.R. 2 (appellate court may suspend requirements of the appellate rules in the interest of expediting a decision).[1] But we have reviewed the relevant portions of the trial court record, the transcript of the hearing at which the trial court found Ms. Lindecrantz in contempt, and Ms. Lindecrantz's filings in this court explaining her position. And we held oral argument on the afternoon of March 2. Having considered these materials, the parties' arguments, and the relevant law, we conclude that we must affirm the trial court.

         II. Discussion

         ¶ 8 The question before us is this: May Ms. Lindecrantz refuse to testify in this capital case in response to the People's subpoena - that is, testify as a witness called by the prosecution - because she believes - as a tenet of her religion ...


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