SKOWHEGAN — A judge has postponed a Palmyra man’s murder trial a week before it was to start to allow the defense team time to review newly disclosed evidence, including reports on blood spatter and damage done by a metal pipe used to commit the crime.
Lawyers for Jason Cote filed a motion to exclude the two reports because they were delivered months after the court-imposed evidence deadline, according to court documents.
Cote’s trial on charges he bludgeoned Ricky Cole to death last July in Detroit was to begin Monday, but now will be held in September.
Cote’s lawyer, John Alsop of Skowhegan, said the state’s evidence from the two reports was not given to him until April. Court documents say the deadline for that evidence was Nov. 30.
Alsop said the information was available to the state for several months and may be critical to the case’s outcome. The delay also violates Cote’s right to a speedy trial, Alsop asserted. Cote has been in custody since the day after Cole’s murder.
“The report is unpardonably late,” Alsop wrote in a motion to exclude the experts’ reports. “There is no excuse or justification for the late production of these reports.”
Alsop’s motion before Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton asked for all the evidence from the experts be excluded from trial testimony, or at least, that the trial date be pushed back to allow the defense an opportunity to study the state’s evidence.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, who is prosecuting the case, opposed Alsop’s motion. She noted that Cote was aware that blood spatter analysis was going to be performed and also that a metal pipe was found in a pond near Cole’s mobile home. Alsop could have requested his own review of the evidence in time for trial, Zainea wrote.
Zainea said the evidence was provided to Cote and his attorneys a month before the trial date and did not put the defense at an unfair disadvantage.
“Instead, Cote made a tactical decision to wait until the state produced its blood spatter and/or tool mark analysis report until deciding whether or not to retain his own expert,” Zainea wrote in her opposition. That failure, she wrote, is “not attributable to the state.”
Horton denied the motion to exclude the evidence, but granted the trial’s postponement. The judge said there was no show of “bad faith or foot dragging” on the part of the state, despite the fact that the reports were six months late.
The judge added that for reasons unrelated to the Cote case, the possibility of holding the trial on schedule seemed in doubt. He said in his order that the entire trial list for May would have to pushed back to August if the Cote trial went on as scheduled. He said there are several defendants who are in custody awaiting trial for offenses that, even if proved, might not result in sentences that would involve jail time until the hearings in August.
He said a delay in the Cote trial is not a violation of his right to a speedy trial.
Neither Zainea nor Alsop responded Monday to requests for additional comment on the case.
According to court documents filed in April, Cole was found on his back on the living room floor of his mobile home. He had head, neck and face injuries. Police found blood drops and spatter throughout the residence, from the outdoor deck and front door to the kitchen ceiling, walls, TV, couch and to the ceiling above the spot where Cole lay.
Witnesses later told Maine State Police investigators that the pipe found in a nearby pond was one Cole kept next to his couch.
The blood spatter evidence indicates Cole was struck while he was seated on the couch and then struck again several times while lying on his back where he was found by police, according to investigators.
Police also found tool marks, possibly from the pipe, on a laptop computer and in the ceiling above Cole’s body. Damage to the ceiling tiles “were consistent with at least four strikes from a weapon in motion to the general area of the victim’s head,” according to court documents.
DNA analysis of all the blood samples taken from inside the home were determined to be Cole’s. DNA samples taken from Cote’s clothing the day after the murder matched the DNA from Cole’s body.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 15, with the trial starting after that. Cote faces 25 years to life in prison.