The trial of Steven Brydie for the murder of a man at Shoofly Ruins last year is set to begin this week.
The courts have carved out the week of Oct. 7-11 for the trial of Brydie with jury selection likely to begin Tuesday.
At a pre-trial meeting last week, lawyers wrestled with several curveballs that may impact the trial, including the arrest of a key witness on drug charges and a Gila County Sheriff’s Office detective put on administrative leave for unknown reasons.
The trial of Brydie stems from the shooting of Michael Whitis, Jr. at the Shoofly Ruins off of Houston Mesa Road in the early hours of July 28, 2018. Whitis died from the gunshot wound in a van parked at the ruins.
Before even going to trial, the case has had several twists and turns with witnesses reportedly lying and changing their stories.
Just days before the murder trial was to start, Judge Timothy Wright held a conference on Oct. 3 to decide if the court should honor defense attorney Michael Bernays’ demand for documents having to do with the arrest of one of the state’s lead witnesses and, in a separate matter, why a lead investigator on the case is now on administrative leave.
Witness arrestedJeffrey Michael Roberts testified in a preliminary hearing that he had been in the minivan sitting next to Whitis when Brydie shot and killed Whitis.
Since that hearing, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office has gone to Roberts’ house three times with search warrants, according to the GCSO.
The third time, deputies reportedly witnessed Roberts selling methamphetamine during an apparent drug deal. Authorities arrested Roberts, but he has been arraigned in Pima County reportedly due to a conflict of interest with Gila County.
The arrest had Bernays wondering if it would affect Roberts’ testimony.
“Because Mr. Roberts is an absolutely critical witness for the state I need to know about his arrest,” said Bernays. “He has lied and changed his story. I am entitled to cross examine him.”
Bernays told the court he has received two of the three police reports, but not the first report, filed on July 29. The other two reports were taken on Aug. 4 and Aug. 15.
Brad Soos, chief deputy county attorney, opposed that request because the prior case, “it is all moot and irrelevant.”
Soos does not believe Roberts’ arrest does not impact the trial.
“They are unrelated to this case,” he said.
Bernays then asked for the personnel records relating to Det. Sgt. David Hornung, who is currently on paid administrative leave with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
“Mr. Soos said in an email this morning with a one line forwarded form from (GCSO) human resources,” said Bernays. “It said (the officer) received an allocation of discourteous insubordination.”
To which Soos replied, “We have decided not to call him.”
But Bernays reminded the court that Hornung “interviewed the witnesses together” and “made accommodations that are fair game.”
“I may call him (as a witness),” said Bernays.
Wright ordered the Gila County Attorney’s Office to provide the additional July 29 police report on Roberts as well as all information on Hornung’s administrative leave.