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Attorneys in Longmont murder case argue validity of photo lineups

Isaiah Rios accused in July 2019 slaying

Isaiah Rios appears in Boulder District Court on July 25, 2019. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer)
Isaiah Rios appears in Boulder District Court on July 25, 2019. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer)

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the defendant’s full name.

A man accused of killing an 80-year-old Longmont resident had his motions hearing Tuesday, with attorneys arguing trial issues including several surrounding photo lineups used to identify Isaiah Rios as the suspect in a series of break-ins police believe preceded the fatal stabbing.

Rios, 30, is charged with first-degree murder after deliberation and felony murder in the death of Gary Hockaday.

Rios also is charged with first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, second-degree burglary, motor vehicle theft, second-degree trespassing, theft from an at-risk person, criminal mischief, felony menacing, theft and habitual criminal sentence enhancers.

Rios is scheduled for a two-week trial starting July 20, and remains in custody at the Boulder County Jail without bond.

While the courts have been delaying many hearings due to the coronavirus, attorneys went ahead with a hearing Tuesday because Rios is in custody and his trial is upcoming.

While the courtroom was closed to the public, the hearing was aired online to the public, with attorneys, Rios, witnesses and Boulder District Judge Andrew Hartman present in the courtroom.

Most of the in-person testimony surrounded a defense motion to suppress evidence of witnesses to several burglary incidents identifying Rios as a suspect using photo lineups.

Police believe Rios was responsible for several Longmont break-ins and incidents in the days and hours leading up to Hockaday being found stabbed to death in his home on Jewel Street on July 18.

In one of the lineups used in a reported incident on July 18, defense attorney Nicole Collins pointed out the witness described the suspect as having facial tattoos. But the photo lineup given to that witness that evening put Rios’ picture with five others that did not have facial tattoos.

“By not including facial tattoos, there is only one photo that matches her description and that stands out,” Collins said. She added that another detective chose to use a lineup containing other photos with facial tattoos for a different witness, indicating police had the capability to include other pictures of people with tattoos on their face.

Boulder Deputy District Attorney Adrian Van Nice argued that the filler photos in the lineup might not have had facial tattoos but were similar in other ways.

“The defendant and the other individuals in the array are quite similar in a number of other important characteristics,” Van Nice said. “There is a significant number of similarities between the defendant and the other individuals in the array.”

Hartman agreed that the filler photos were similar in other ways, but said Rios’ photo stood out because of the facial tattoo considering it was a detail the witness specifically told police prior to looking at the lineup.

“It is unique in a manner directly related to an identification factor,” Hartman said.

Following that ruling, the witness was brought in to the courtroom to determine if the lineup might have created the likelihood of a false identification, with Rios watching the proceedings from a separate room.

Following her testimony, Hartman said that while the photo lineup was suggestive, it was not enough for the evidence to be thrown out of the case “based on the totality of the circumstances.”

Hartman noted that the witness expressed a high level of certainty Rios was the man she saw during her initial interview and included a high level of detail in describing him.

In a separate motion, defense attorneys sought to have one of Rios’ felony menacing counts dropped after Longmont police appeared to have misplaced a different photo lineup signed by a separate witness.

Van Nice said while the physical copy does appear to have been lost, body camera and detective testimony led prosecutors to believe the lineup used for that witness was identical to the one used with another witness that was still preserved electronically.

Collins argued that without a report or documentation, there was no way to know that for sure and that prosecutors and police were trying to “piece together” an explanation.

“The fact of the matter is the lineup is not available,” Collins said.

Hartman said he would review the evidence and make a written ruling in that case.

Rios’ attorneys also filed a motion asking Hartman to sever the trial into several separate trials, with the homicide trial going first.

“It is seven different incidents under one complaint,” said defense attorney Lovel Tokich. “There should be seven different jury trials. The court is inviting confusion.”

Van Nice objected and said the incidents were all connected, and Hartman agreed in denying the motion.

“There is definitely intersection in the counts,” Hartman said.

Hartman also denied a defense motion to suppress statements Rios made following his apprehension at a storage facility and during his transportation and subsequent questioning.