DAYTON — The trial for a man accused of a 1996 murder in Columbia County has been postponed yet again due to the appointment of a new Superior Court judge.
Benjamin Orozco, 44, was arrested in Mexico and brought to the county jail in Dayton over two years ago. He’s been awaiting trial since December 2016.
Prosecutors said the trial has been moved from Aug. 12-23 to Aug. 19-30 after the defense filed a motion for a change of judge on June 11. The case was reassigned from Judge Gary Libey to Judge Scott Wolfram on June 24.
“Because of Judge Wolfram’s schedule, we had to delay the trial one week … though Judge Wolfram does not believe it will take two weeks to try, which I agree with,” Columbia County Prosecutor Dale Slack wrote in an email.
He said the case is being tried as a self-defense, according to a disclosure filed June 5.
“We will have the burden of disproving self-defense, which adds some work on our end, but we’re prepared to do it, and we can do so with the witnesses we already had planned to call, and the evidence we have already prepared,” Slack wrote.
At a hearing Friday the court granted denied a defense effort to include an expert witness in self-defense, Slack said.
“We moved to prevent that witness from testifying because I believe his opinions are legally improper commentary on Mr. Orozco’s state of mind and guilt or innocence that should not be presented,” Slack wrote. “The jury will have to apply to the issue of self-defense whether Mr. Orozco reasonably believed that he was in danger of imminent great personal injury or death, given all of the circumstances. As reasonable people, the jury is smart enough to make this decision themselves and don’t need an expert, I believe.”
Wolfram signed a bench warrant on July 10 to arrest prosecution witness David Delarosa to ensure he’s present for trial.
“Mr. Delarosa was the individual with Mr. Orozco when the alleged murder took place; his testimony is very important to the state’s case, and he was granted immunity by the prosecutor in 1996 for that testimony,” Slack wrote.
Orozco is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in connection with the shootings of Lance Terry and David Eaton on July 7, 1996, near downtown Dayton. Terry died from wounds in his chest and abdomen. Eaton, wounded in the hand and knee, recovered.
Orozco’s trial has been delayed several times. Most recently, it was rescheduled from July to August because the defense didn’t provide discovery evidence it planned to use at trial in a timely manner, including witness statements and lists, physical evidence, expert reports and more, according to Slack.
The court initially set Orozco’s trial for March 6, 2017, but medical issues and difficulties related to investigating a 23-year-old homicide have delayed proceedings.
Orozco’s trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 28. Then it was continued to March 11. Slack said the prosecution was ready but the defense needed more time to get an expert witness. Prosecutors requested a cutoff date of May 8 for discovery, so all evidence was to be exchanged by then.
Orozco is being held at the Washington State Penitentiary, which occasionally houses Columbia County inmates considered too dangerous to hold in the cramped and general population conditions of the local jail. Bail is set at $2 million.