KINGMAN - Unlike good cheese and fine wine, criminal cases don't get better with the passage of time.
So said Superior Court Judge Steven Conn Tuesday when he took the Mohave County attorney's office to task for allowing certain cases to "linger and fester" on his court calendar.
"People die, they get sick, move away," he said. "And the case becomes un-prosecutable."
Conn's frustration boiled over when hearings in two of those lingering cases were held.
The first involved Gerald John Nowakowski, Jr., a Lake Havasu City man who allegedly set his own property on fire on Aug. 5, 2011.
The second involved Casey Fessenden, who was arrested that same August. Norman Corley was arrested two months later. Both are charged with first-degree murder in the April 12, 2010 shooting death of Christopher Gillespie.
They remained in the Mohave County jail following their respective arrests until late last year when they were set free for being held for so long their constitutional right to a speedy trial was compromised.
Conn went so far as to suggest the state might consider dismissing the felony charge against Nowakowski, but he offered no such sentiment regarding Fessenden.
"This is good," said the judge when Fessenden's case was called immediately after Nowakowski's. "Now I won't have to think about something else to say."
But Conn did have more to say.
He said the crime the defendants allegedly committed is "about as serious as you can get."
He noted Fessenden was "chomping at the bit" to go to trial when he was still in custody, but he isn't as eager for a day in court now that he's out.
"I'm concerned about this case," Conn said, and he was particularly forceful in comments regarding Deputy County Attorney Kim Aune, who is trying the cases.
Aune was not present at Tuesday's a hearing, a fact that upset Conn. Instead, Deputy County Attorney Greg McPhillips subbed in at the hearing.
"I'm concerned this case is not moving at the pace that it should," said Conn.
"It's inexcusable for these cases to be on my calendar for so long the state had to release two people who were being held on a charge of first-degree murder," he said later.
Conn said Aune might want to show up for a hearing. McPhillips said she was obligated to another court and her absence was not "a slight" to Conn.
"At some point, you look at your calendar and see that you have a first-degree murder trial that's been pending for two years. You say to yourself, 'Maybe I'll show up,'" replied Conn.
McPhillips addressed the release of Fessenden and Corley following the hearing.
"Obviously, that is not what we wanted to do," he said.
McPhillips agreed with the judge's comments, saying the county attorney's office shares his concerns, but he also said Aune is not completely responsible for the delay in justice being done.
"The ground shifted on her a couple of times regarding these cases," said McPhillips.
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