It may be awhile, if ever, before Barton County jurors are permitted to decide the guilt or innocence of Alejandro “Vato” Azteca in a 2016 shooting outside a Great Bend apartment complex.
He was charged with attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault after he reportedly fired at Phillip Pardo and Sabrina Juarez, both of Great Bend, with a .45 caliber handgun.
The Barton County Attorney’s Office alleges he shot Pardo in the buttock during an incident on May 21, 2016, during an altercation between Pardo and Azteca’s brother, Pablo Alfonso Nunez.
Following the incident, Azteca fled to Minnesota. He was later picked up there by authorities and was jailed there until his extradition.
A jury trial for Azteca was scheduled to begin on Monday, but on Friday, Feb. 9, Barton County District Judge Scott McPherson released Azteca when it was determined the prosecution failed to provide him with a speedy trial.
Barton County Attorney Amy Mellor said her office is reviewing the district court’s order, as well as recent case law from the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals, that could affect some of the charges against Azteca.
The countdown begins
According to court documents, Azteca has been in jail here since the Barton County Sheriff’s Office received an order to transport him from the State of Minnesota back to Kansas on June 22, 2017.
On Jan. 26, attorney Ben Fisher, Azteca’s court-appointed defense, filed a Motion to Dismiss, citing K.S.A. 22-4401 Art. III, of the Interstate Agreement, which asserts when a prisoner is extradited from another state, he shall be brought to trial within 180 days. Fisher asserted the countdown started on June 26, 2017, when Azteca made his first appearance before the Barton County District Court.
According to the Interstate Agreement, the 180 days can be extended, provided the prisoner or his counsel is presented with a good cause.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for June 30, but the defense council requested and was granted a continuance until Aug. 24 in order to become familiar with the case. This amounted to a 55-day delay in the countdown.
While the arraignment was scheduled for Sept. 8, it was continued another 17 days “for an unknown reason” to Sept. 22. This is significant because this is where the defense and the prosecution differ on when the countdown to Azteca’s speedy trial resumed.
Without a good cause on file, the defense asserted the 180-day countdown continued over that 17 days and that Azteca’s trial should have started by Jan. 26 when the Motion to Dismiss was filed.
Assistant County Attorney Doug Matthews responded to the Motion to Dismiss by asserting that Azteca had not complied with the agreement because he referred to the Minnesota statute, and not the Kansas statute of the Agreement of Detainers act, and that he had not filed his Interstate Agreement on Detainers directly with the Barton County Attorney, but only with the Barton County Clerk. This filing on June 5, 2017, is what set the extradition order from Minnesota to Kansas in motion.
Fisher responded that Azteca’s request was valid because the Minnesota and Kansas statutes are considered interchangeable, and because the State of Kansas uses electronic filing; once the clerk filed his request, the Barton County Attorney was automatically notified because they were a party to the case.
A hearing for the Motion to Dismiss was set for Friday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. With nothing on file providing a “good cause” for the continuance to Sept. 22, McPherson approved the Motion to Dismiss.
In response to questions from the Great Bend Tribune, County Attorney Mellor described the status of the case on Monday via email:
“On Friday, the Barton District Court ordered that Azteca be released from confinement, pending further developments in the prosecution’s case against him,” she confirmed.
“Our office is currently prosecuting charges against Alejandro Azteca, and for that reason the rules of our state Supreme Court prevent us from commenting fully on the status of the case,” Mellor said, explaining plans to review the court order and case law.
Asked if the charges against Azteca had been dropped, Matthews also responded to questions from the Tribune.
“We have not dropped charges,” Matthews stated via email. “However, very recent case law from our appellate courts compels us to examine the current charges in order to determine whether we can go forward with the case. It’s our intention to prosecute the matter as allowed by the law,” he said.
Free to go
According to the Barton County Sheriff’s Office Media Log of Feb. 9, Alejandro Azteca was released from his warrant for Attempted Murder, Aggravated Battery and Criminal Damage to Property by Order of the Court.
According to Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir, a state typically will not extradite a prisoner to another state until they have completed their sentence there. So, Azteca was not required to return to Minnesota.
“He walked out the front door of the jail. He has no bond, no probation, he’s as free now as you and me,” said Bellendir.
This matter also came up Monday morning during the Barton County Commission meeting. It was brought up in a discussion involving Denise Rankin and what she believes was bungling of the child molestation case against her ex-husband Jeffrey Rankin.