Golden – Kenneth H. Botham Jr. is a man with bitter enemies.
Outside the courtroom, the Miracle family mingles about, waiting to testify against the man they’re convinced killed Linda Miracle and her two young sons. While inside, witnesses testify to a slew of faults in Botham’s character.
Botham was tight with his money, bad-mouthed nearly everyone, and lied, according to some testimony. He mistreated his wife, flaunted pictures of his girlfriend, and had an affair he tried to cover up, according to others.
In love and war, all may be fair. But in crime and punishment, weaving such personality accusations into a case is a dangerous move – and invites a mistrial.
For Botham, it could mean the difference between a jury freely weighing the relevant facts, or one encumbered by prejudices.
The retrial of Botham for the murder of his wife and the Miracles six years ago in Grand Junction came to a halt Thursday when defense lawyers scrambled to prevent further damaging testimony against Botham’s character.
John Bert Hayes, 2858 North Ave., Grand Junction, had worked with Botham at the Tri-Star electonics [electronics] firm prior to the Aug. 22, 1975 murders. Hayes testified that Botham tried to cover up his affair with another woman. Defense lawyer Norman Mueller jumped from his seat in protest.
“I’ve never seen such a blatant attack on the character of a person,” he said. “This is clearly character assassination, and material for mistrial.”
With the jury and witness sent out of the room, the lawyers argued the validity of character portrayals, one of the more complex aspects of trial court procedure.
“We’re trying to show a motive on the part of the defendant. That he was insensitive and arrogant. That he wouldn’t even buy his own wife clothes, and made her get by on $20 a week allowance for groceries,” said prosecutor Jerry Jorgenson.
“Come on,” countered Mueller’s partner in the case, Lee Foreman. “If that’s animosity…You’ve said worse things to your wife. What does that have to do with the basic question here: whether he killed the victims or not[?]”
District Judge Winston Wolvington, who is presiding, agreed with the defense.
“The law is clear that until evidence is put in by the defense on a defendant’s character, such evidence is inadmissible,” he ruled. Hayes’ testimony was cut short.
The law may be clear, but lawyers are still apt to deftly slip personality factors into a case which, left unchallenged, can remain in the jurors’ minds.
Tim Tyree, a former friend of Botham’s, testified earlier Thursday that Botham called Linda Miracle “dumb and stupid.” He said Botham was sarcastic, more apt to criticize than to praise, and that he twice embarrassed his wife Patricia by unzipping her pants in front of Tyree.
Not all reports on Botham’s character were necessarily negative. Witnesses also testified that he regularly selected choir music for the Mesa View Baptist Church, and sang in a barbershop quartet.
It’s impossible to predict a jurors’ reaction, however, said Foreman. “Anytime you introduce personality into a case, you open up a whole pandora’s box,” he said.
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