Hayes trial scheduled to go forward
A Nevada County judge rejected a motion Friday to dismiss murder charges against Lauren Hayes, whose trial is set to begin Wednesday in Superior Court.
However, Judge John Darlington did say he would consider throwing out some evidence, which allegedly had been contaminated, after the trial starts.
Hayes’ lawyer, Public Defender Thomas Anderson, argued Sheriff’s Office investigators had handled some evidence so poorly that they destroyed signs that could have pointed to Hayes’ innocence.
In particular, the 9mm semiautomatic Ruger used to shoot Lawrence Leffingwell on Sept. 5, 2003, was handled by several people who did not wear gloves. That destroyed any possibility of lifting fingerprints that could have identified the shooter, Anderson said.
Hayes has maintained that Joshua Everton of Cedar Ridge shot Leffingwell.
Hayes initially denied to investigators that she had been at the scene because Everton allegedly had threatened “‘you’ll be next,'” Anderson said.
“As (deputies) were driving her back after the interview, she told the guy in the car, ‘I didn’t tell everything because I know you guys can’t protect me,'” Anderson said. She then went back to the Sheriff’s Office and admitted she had been at the scene.
Everton was held briefly in connection with the case but was not charged.
Sheriff Keith Royal, who was present for the ruling along with several investigators, said there had been “limited procedural errors” made at the time. Since then, officers have received additional training to improve the handling of evidence.
“When we looked at this investigation, the staff was disappointed in themselves,” Royal said. “We have looked at where we could do better. … We are going to do better and the county deserves nothing less.”
Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson argued that the evidence that does exist points to Hayes.
Wolfson painted a portrait of a woman who had used Leffingwell’s sexual interest in her to lure him to Edward’s Crossing, a popular swimming spot on the Yuba River. Leffingwell was found dead there, and a witness saw Hayes nearby.
Hayes knew about the safe Leffingwell had in the back of his Cadillac, knew he kept cash and drugs in it, knew where to find the keys to the safe, knew that he got paid on Fridays and had been looking for him over a period of several hours on the day of the shooting – a Friday.
“I will not concede the (investigating) officers acted in bad faith. I will not concede there is any exculpatory evidence” that was lost, Wolfson said. “We’re talking about what’s before the court. Based on evidence that the court has before it, Ms. Hayes is connected to the crime.”
“When you’re denied evidence that could prove your innocence, you’re denied an opportunity to have a fair trial,” Anderson countered.
Darlington ruled that legal precedents from the California Supreme Court set out very narrow circumstances in which a case can be dismissed because evidence has been lost or destroyed. This case does not meet those standards, he said.
“The court finds this is not the kind of due process violation that would stop the trial on constitutional grounds,” Darlington said. “There is a different question as to whether the evidence is admissible at trial. It’s definitely something that’s going to have to be examined by this court.”
To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail trinak@ theunion.com or call 477-4231.
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