APACHE AND NAVAJO COUNTIES. The Independent has been reporting on various criminal cases pending in local courts. In the court system cases often get delayed, court dates get moved, trial settings get vacated. Below is an update to some of the cases The Independent has been following.

Peggy and Russell Rogers

In September of last year, Margaret “Peggy” Rogers, 67, was indicted by a Navajo County grand jury for a number of felonies including stealing around $850,000 from the employer of Harvey Leon Palmer, a man she was having an affair with. Palmer has since died; he was the treasurer of the Silver Creek Irrigation District. Rogers’ husband Russell, 69, was also charged in the case. Their cases were set for a jury trial after about one year of pretrial procedures, including the recovery of about $200,000 from the assets of the deceased Palmer. Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon is personally prosecuting the case.

Just before trial, “on the courthouse steps,” as they say, Rogers invoked a defense and a procedural rule which have put the brakes on. Her lawyer said that she was having difficulty in working with Rogers and asked for a psychological evaluation of her client. The lawyer, Mariclare Hannah who happens to be the Public Defender for Navajo County, also invoked an insanity defense, known in Arizona as “guilty but insane.”

Since then, the parties have appeared monthly at status conferences with the Judge Ralph Hatch who had set the case for a jury trial for September 4, noting that it was a “firm” trial date. That was after Rogers was expected to plead guilty on April 24, but at the last minute, she said that she “wasn’t ready” to do that, according to court records. With the type of defense and rule raised by Rogers, the trial date came and went with no action, while Rogers arranged for the necessary evaluations. The latest delays had to do with how the evaluator was to be paid — the agency preferred by Rogers did not have an existing contract with Navajo County, thus adding to further delay.

Her husband’s case has been traveling through the court system with hers, so there has been nothing definitive on his case, either.

John Russell Thomas

John R. Thomas 30, was indicted on numerous felonies for allegedly shooting his father and brother when they allegedly attempted to prevent Thomas from strangling his girlfriend on July 5, in the Fawnbrook neighborhood of Show Low. Thomas was taken into custody after a six-hour manhunt involving every law enforcement agency on the Mountain. All of the alleged victims survived.

The case started out on a strange note when the father and brother asked the prosecutor to ask Judge Ralph Hatch to allow them to contact Thomas. The relatives tried to visit Thomas in jail but the jailers wouldn’t allow it. At the request of Navajo County Deputy County Attorney Patrick Zinicola, the judge modified defendant’s release conditions to allow contact with brother and dad. The girlfriend didn’t ask for any change.

Then came Thomas’ request for an OR (own recognizance) release—he was being held on a $1 million cash bond. The pretrial service people at the probation department viewed Thomas as a low flight risk. The judge changed the bail to a $1 million “secured” bond, meaning that if Thomas comes up with $100,000 in cash and pledges the rest in property, he could be released. Instead, he awaits trial from jail.

And a trial date has not been set. The prosecutor has filed various notices alerting the court that they plan to allege that at the time of the incident, Thomas was intoxicated — stoned on pot, and that a child was present during this alleged domestic violence offense. According to Arizona’s rather comlpex sentencing laws, if that if pot allegation is proven, Thomas must receive a “flat” prison sentence. That means that he will not be eligible for early release credit of 1 day for every 8 days served, accounting for 15 percent of the sentence. Early release credit is offered to inmates as an incentive to not cause problems while incarcerated.

And speaking of intoxication, the state filed a motion indicating that Thomas might try to use the defense of “involuntary intoxication.” It is noteworthy that in his formal notice of defenses filed with the court, defense counsel Criss Candelaria of Concho did not list that as a defense, so it is unknown why the prosecutor addressed it. It could have emerged in what the state has listed as Thomas’ “videotaped confession” that they say they have. The motion says that if Thomas tries to use that defense at trial, that the state should be able to produce evidence that Thomas once told someone that he had used meth.

Finally, Thomas asked the court to appoint an investigator for his side. After all, the state has a whole organization full of investigators; a defendant does not. The judge granted the motion. The next case management conference is set for Nov. 21.

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

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