Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in People v. Ray

Court to determine whether prior holding on jury instructions regarding burden of proof applies

The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in People v. Ray, a death penalty case concerning the language of instructions given to the jury that qualify the availability of self-defense and whether it erroneously shifts the burden of proof.

In 2004, Robert Ray was on probation for prior drug and vehicle theft charges. He was pulled over for speeding and driving recklessly. He did not comply when asked to step out of the car and at one point placed his hand out of sight and appeared to the officers to be reaching for something. He was pulled out of the car and arrested. Upon further search, police found a BB gun in the glove compartment and a firearm in one of the door’s side panels. He was charged with possession of a weapon by a previous offender and convicted.

Also in 2004, a separate altercation at a concert led to Ray shooting two individuals — Elvin Bell and Javad Marshall-Fields. Key prosecution witness Jeremy Green testified that during the fight, he heard Ray say, “I’ll kill all of you, I’ll kill everybody.”

Bell’s brother Greg Vann tried to break up a fight when Sir Mario Owens, a friend of Ray’s, shot and killed Vann. Ray shot Bell and Fields to escape the situation. Ray was charged with and convicted of accessory to murder, two counts of attempted murder and two counts of first-degree assault. Prior to that trial in 2005, Owens killed Marshall-Fields and his fiancée Vivian Wolfe. The Court of Appeals opinion stated that the “evidence established that Ray orchestrated the killings.”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the April 16, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.