Golden – A virtual arsenal of guns, along with a kaleidoscope of circumstantial evidence, were rolled into the courtroom Thursday in the murder retrial of Kenneth H. Botham Jr.
The weapons at one time belonged to Botham. The evidence made his actions suspicious. But the prosecution’s case, now four days in the making, has yet to pin Botham with the murder weapon or to link him to a chain of evidence likely to lead to conviction.
Defense lawyer Lee Foreman said he has yet to see anything absolutely incriminating. Mesa County District Attorney Terry Farina agreed, but promised to string together a “series of coincidences that together no longer are coincidence. Our case is building.”
Today’s testimony was expected to add more links to that chain of coincidence, Farina said.
Botham is being tried on the charges of murdering his wife Patricia, 25, his neighbor, Linda Miracle, 25, and Miracle’s two young sons, Troy, 5, and Chad, 3, on Aug. 22, 1975.
Botham was convicted of the crimes in 1976, getting a death sentence that was later converted to life in prison. Last summer, Botham’s conviction was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court, in part due to the wide-spread pre-trial publicity in the case that rocked Grand Junction.
Botham’s retrial was moved to a part of the state not exposed to the publicity surrounding the case in the Grand Junction area, and is now being heard in Golden District Court.
Winds gusting to 80 miles an hour battered the courthouse Thursday, forcing witnesses to speak loudly. No one, however, missed the half dozen guns owned by Botham that were wheeled into court and placed on exhibit.
Identified by Mesa County Sheriff’s Detective Milo Vig, the weapons included four .22-caliber guns, a high-powered rifle and a .38-caliber snubnose pistol.
Botham had used all of the guns prior to the date of the crime in target practice near the Three Sisters hill area adjacent to the Colorado National Monument, said Tim Tyree, who accompanied Botham on the sporting trips.
None of the weapons was the gun used to kill Miracle’s two sons, Foreman stressed in cross-examining several witnesses. Botham’s wife and Linda Miracle were strangled.
The prosecution used the weapons to argue that Botham somehow knew before it was made public that the murder weapon was a .22-caliber gun. Vig testified that the day after the boys’ bodies were found Oct. 3, 1975, he asked Botham by telephone to turn over all of his guns for inspection. Botham agreed, but Vig’s detectives returned to the sheriff’s office with only Botham’s .22-caliber guns.
The prosecution argued that Botham had withheld his large caliber weapons. Foreman’s cross-examination of Vig, however, revealed there was some doubt whether the detectives themselves had asked for all of Botham’s guns, or just the .22-calibers.
The defense also sought to discredit similar circumstantial evidence. Georgia Hunter and Patsy Miracle, Linda’s sister-in-law, both saw Botham washing his 1972 Toyota Land Cruiser several days following the crime.
The whole neighborhood, defense attorney Norman Mueller pointed out, was doing likewise that week.
Sitting longest in the witness stand Thursday was Tyree. A longtime buddy of Botham’s, they had both floated the Gunnison River, putting their rafts in at Bridgeport, where the bodies were found, and discussing water curls that could “hold something down for a long, long time,” said Tyree.
He also said the Botham was typically sarcastic, sometimes “bad-mouthing” his wife Patricia, and twice embarrassing her in front of Tyree by grabbing her and unzipping her pants.
Tyree also said Botham once discussed divorce with him, saying he would never want to pay alimony, just child support.
In cross-examining Tyree, Foreman stressed that most boaters put their rafts into the river at Bridgeport; that the water curls referred to are not found near Bridgeport; and that his relationship to Patricia was no more strained than most marriages.
No, Tyree said, when asked whether he had any doubts that Botham cared for his wife and kids.
Outside the courtroom later, Tyree said he was glad his part in the trial was over. “I didn’t want to come back,” said Tyree, who now lives in Seattle.
The day’s two breaks came when defense lawyers challenged the testimony of John Bert Hayes, 2858 North Ave., who first met Botham in 1973 and worked with him at the Tri-State electronics firm.
Hayes sought to testify about an affair with another woman he claimed Botham had in 1974, which District Judge Winston Wolvington ruled as “inadmissible evidence of the defendant’s character.”
Hayes was allowed to testify that on Sept. 30, 1976, four days after the first body was found, Botham told him at work one morning that someone had damaged his vehicle and stolen his pistol.
At the day’s end, though, most visible to the jury was the collection of guns stacked on the courtroom table, a vision even the wind wouldn’t budge.
The defense was clearly bothered. “Why did they bring in eight guns, none of which were connected to the crime” Foreman asked later. “Was it to scare the jury? People aren’t as used to target guns over here as they are in Grand Junction, so maybe that was it.”
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