By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Judge Joe Parker has denied a request by the district attorney’s office to restrict verbal and written communications between homicide suspect James Smith and potential state witnesses.
Smith is accused of killing 30-year-old Laura McNaughton in December.
After reviewing written arguments from defense attorney Stephen Doerr and 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler, the district court judge ruled he saw no provisions in the statute cited by Chandler to restrict Smith’s communications.
Chandler fears communications between Smith and potential state witnesses could compromise testimony in Smith’s capital murder trial.
“The purpose of our request was to ensure the administration of justice and protect the integrity of potential testimony,” Chandler said Tuesday.
In a decision letter filed Thursday, Parker stated when a defendant is released on bond it is within his power to impose restrictions and conditions of release. Based on Parker’s judgment, Smith, who has been held without bond since his Dec. 20 arrest, is not subject to those restrictions as an incarcerated person.
Parker did, however, issue a reminder that “neither victims nor potential witnesses are obliged to speak with the defendant except and unless a subpoena has been issued by the court giving such a directive.”
Chandler said New Mexico law clearly places the matter at the discretion of the court, and his office has no plans to appeal the decision.
“We respect the ruling. We intend to keep moving forward with the case,” he said.
“The bottom line is that we want to protect the integrity of the testimony, and we don’t want anything to compromise that.”
McNaughton’s body was discovered by hunters on Dec. 10 in a rural Curry County ditch.
Smith’s four-week trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 8.
Doerr, who filed a motion last week to withdraw as council for Smith, is continuing in the case until a public defender can be appointed, according to court documents.
Doerr cited in court documents his lack of experience concerning death penalty cases and the inability of his client to pay his fees as reasons for withdrawing.