William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese - Hearings Cancelled Until Appeal Resolved
Wednesday, May 16 2012 @ 10:18 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Request Denied: The Superior Tribunal in Chiriqui denied all three motions filed by Holbert and Reese's defense lawyer. Now their lawyer will probably appeal those decisions to the Supreme Court in Panama City. The Superior Court in Chiriqui cannot proceed with the trials until the appeals are decided. So, that means everything is on hold for now.
Executive Summary and Short Answer Up Front: This types of motions and appeals will certainly delay the legal proceedings to some extent. The request filed by Holbert's defense attorney has already been denied by the Superior Tribunal. If appealed, I expect the lower court's decision will eventually be upheld by the Supreme Court of Panama. In the meantime, both Holbert and Reese will remain right where they are, in prison awaiting trial. I know there are family members of the victims who are watching these legal maneuvers intensely, so I'm taking the time to analyze and explain the issues, to look at the Panamanian law as well as previous case history. However in the end I think this whole tactic will simply delay things to some degree, but not have any real impact on the final outcome. (more)
Many Cases - Two Defendants: Today I also confirmed that Laura Michelle Reese will be tried together with William Dathan Holbert as his accomplice. When they finally do go to trial, both of them will be facing justice together. Holbert's entire defense strategy from day one has been for him to confess and admit to the killings in an attempt to have Laura Michelle Reese acquitted and set free. The problem is that during his confession he had to tell lies - in particular about the whereabouts of Laura Michelle Reese at the time of the murders. Really simple - where was she when you pulled the trigger? In every case Laura Michelle Reese was actually right there. However in Holbert's confession he said she was off somewhere else, shopping or whatever. Once the prosecution can prove that Holbert lied during his confession in an attempt to cover for Reese, then it's game over. Holbert has described this defense strategy himself in public on many occasions. It's really no secret - he's trying to take the fall so that she can walk.
Equal Treatment: The law in Panama applies to everyone equally - both Panamanians and foreigners - so any criminal defendant who has been charged with more than one crime has a legal right to make this request. This legal tactic is "nothing special" for Holbert and Reese.
Far From Automatic: Panama's Judicial Branch has a website where anyone can conduct searches of published court decisions. In researching this topic I looked at several recent court decisions from both the Superior Tribunals and the Supreme Court in these kinds of matters. In general these types of requests seem to be denied more often than they are approved.
Standard Defense Strategy: Defense lawyers in Panama have learned throughout the years that it's usually a good thing for their clients if they can convince the Superior Tribunal to "accumulate" or combine two or more criminal procedures into one. In fact any competent Panamanian lawyer would be expected to request the three cases be compiled or "accumulated" into one, because it generally benefits the defendants. There are several reasons for this.
- Reduction In Sentence: Under Panamanian law, specifically Law 68 of 2 November 2009, the maximum penalty for murder was increased to 30 years. Right now Holbert and Reese are facing three separate trials for five murders, meaning (I think) they are looking at a maximum of 90 years in prison if convicted in all three cases. However if the cases are combined or "accumulated" then the maximum penalty they would be facing would drop to 50 years. Obviously, this is one reason why the prosecution would resist or oppose such a request.
- Increased Potential For A Mistrial: All of the evidence becomes part of one big case if the several cases pending against Holbert and Reese were to be combined. Therefore, if later during trial the defense lawyers are able to uncover some fault or technicality in the case that would force the case to be dismissed, then all of the cases would have to be dismissed because they have all been combined into one. By having three cases open against Holbert and Reese the prosecutors stand better chances of getting a conviction against one or both of them, in one, two, or all three trials. Again, this would be another reason why the prosecutors would oppose or resist such a request in this situation.
- "Most Favorable For The Defendant" There is a general principle in Panamanian criminal law that basically says if a court has to decide between A and B, then they should chose the option that is "most favorable for the defendant." In this case, Holbert and Reese murdered the Brown family in December 2007 - meaning - before the new criminal law came into affect. So therefore they could potentially face lessor sentences for those murders than for the murders of Bo Icelar and Cher Hughes, which were committed after the new criminal law came into effect, on 2 November 2009. Holbert and Reese killed Bo Icelar in December 2009, just a few days after the new law came into effect, so they are facing a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison for that murder. And of course the same thing applies for the murder to Cher Hughes.
What Are The Rules and Law? The law prescribing the rules for combining or "accumulating" cases can be found in the Panamanian Judicial Code, Book Three (Criminal Proceedings), Title III, Chapter IX (Accumulation of Processes), Articles 2288 - 2293. Translation follows;
- Chapter IX - Accumulation of Processes
- Article 2288: There is a place for the accumulation processes when there are two or more distinct processes against the same individual for the same offense. The processes will not be combined into one single case for crimes committed by different people, at different times, and without a prior agreement between them to commit crimes. The parties may request the competent court to order the accumulation of cases separately, when the requirements for the accumulation of cases are met as required in this article.
- Article 2289: The accumulation will be done in the court which has knowledge, in the case of two of the same category. Otherwise, the accumulation is done in the Superior Court.
- Article 2290: When a person who has been accused of a crime commits further offenses during the process, and when knowledge (of the new crime) reaches the court, the process that was initiated first will be suspended until all of the cases can be put into a state so they can be followed jointly.
- Article 2291: If the first process were to be in the second instance because of an appeal of a sentence, and if there is another case against the same person who has been accused, once resolved, the case file will be returned to the court and will be held in abeyance while deciding on the merit of the second summary, and then carry out the accumulation, in order so that a single process follows for both offenses.
- Article 2292: The rules contained in the previous articles will be applied when in two or more cases there are several defendants; provided that those who appear as the main authors are the same in the different cases.
- Article 2293: The procedures for ordering and carrying out the accumulation of criminal processes are the same as those set forth in this Code the accumulation of cases in Civil proceedings.
Focus On Article 2288: It says - "The processes will not be combined into one single case for crimes committed by different people, at different times, and without a prior agreement between them to commit crimes." In other words - the cases pending against Holbert and Reese cannot be combined because they were committed at different times. Almost two years went by between the murders of the Brown family in December 2007 and the murder of Bo Icelar in December 2009, and then another four months went by before they murdered Cher Hughes. The "spirit and intent" of this accumulation of processes is for the type of crime when one guy walks into a bar and shoots three people. One actor, one place, one time, three victims. It simply does not apply to the cases facing Holbert and Reese.
Don't Sweat It: Family members of Holbert and Reese's victims were hoping to see some degree of justice in May 2012, in the three trial dates that had been established by the Superior Tribunal in Chiriqui. These developments will delay the legal proceedings somewhat, to be sure. However it is now apparent their request to have the cases combined or "accumulated" will be denied. Therefore, once all appeals are exhausted, the court will reestablish new trial dates, and the cases will proceed normally. This little tactic probably won't have any significant outcome on the end result of the trial.
Family Members: As usual, please feel free to email me directly if you have any questions about all of this that I failed to think about or cover adequately. And of course you should also consult your attorneys directly, and it would be unwise to rely on a blogger for your legal advice. All of this is just me talking, for what it's worth.
Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.