Judge Tosses Prison-Killing Conviction

The Denver Post
October 14, 2010
By Joey Bunch

A Lincoln County trial judge has set aside the murder conviction of a Limon prison inmate, ruling that District Attorney Carol Chambers’ office withheld evidence that could have boosted David Bueno’s defense.

Chambers’ assistant district attorney said Wednesday that the defense had the information in question available to them at trial “and sat on this for strategic reasons.”

Chambers had sought the death penalty when Bueno stood trial in 2008 for the 2004 stabbing death of inmate Jeffrey Heird.

Bueno, 46, was convicted but sentenced to life in prison. He was serving a 24-year sentence for burglary at the time of the slaying and remains in prison for that conviction.

In his ruling, District Judge Douglas Tallman did not find misconduct on the part of prosecutors.

“The Trial Court cannot say with certainty the District Attorney acted in bad faith by withholding relevant and possibly exculpatory evidence,” he wrote in the ruling.

Bueno’s attorneys had argued that Heird was a white supremacist and informant probably killed by other white supremacists who pinned the killing on Bueno and inmate Alejandro Perez, who is awaiting trial.

Minutes after the discovery of Heird’s body, a prison nurse found a letter allegedly from the Aryan Brotherhood Nation threatening to “exterminate” white inmates who “refuse to accept their proud race.”

Two days later, another white inmate, David Hollenbeck, was found dead from blunt-force trauma to his chest, a death ruled “suspicious.”

Hollenbeck lived in the same area of the prison as Heird and allegedly was an Aryan Brotherhood target.

“This was a death penalty case. This man’s life was on the line, and this was not peripheral information by any means,” said Derek Samuelson, a former public defender who represented Bueno at the trial. “This was a piece of evidence that was not only exculpatory but at the heart of David’s defense.”

Assistant District Attorney Leslie Hansen said Bueno’s lawyers had been allowed to examine any prison incident reports.

Court rules don’t “require us to spoon-feed to the defense every document,” she said.

Bueno’s current defense team claims it did not receive the information from prosecutors until July 2009. Hansen said a defense attorney had referenced having it in June 2008, soon after the trial.

Rules on requesting a new trial require the request to be made immediately after trial and to call the letter “new information” is not accurate, Hansen said.

“For them to stand up in court and say they didn’t have this letter until July of ’09 is troubling,” she said.

Hansen said Chambers would file an appeal today.