The Tucson man who was denied a chance to argue at trial that someone else could have stabbed his girlfriend to death in November 2016 is not entitled to a new trial, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled this week.
Chet Jack Wadsworth Maley was sentenced to life in prison last year after being convicted of stabbing Roxanne Ortiz to death outside a convenience store on Nov. 21, 2016. Ortiz suffered multiple wounds to her neck and torso, and died at the scene despite intervention by a bystander and first responders.
Maley was arrested a few hours later but questions of his competency to assist in his defense delayed his trial until April 2019. Prior to trial, Judge Deborah Bernini of the Pima County Superior Court rejected a defense effort to present evidence showing Ortiz was involved the “inherently dangerous” business of selling drugs which could have led to her death.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office argued it would be “highly prejudicial” for the judge to allow evidence related to Ortiz’s alleged illegal activities, and that Maley’s theory of third-party culpability was “pure speculation.”
Bernini agreed, ruling Maley’s generalized claim “that some other person did it” simply because Ortiz may have been involved in drug sales at some point was too speculative to allow. After being convicted, Marley argued on appeal that he was denied a fair trial due to the judge’s ruling
In its Dec. 8 decision, the appellate court acknowledged that evidence of third-party culpability can be admissible in some cases but it can also be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of “unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.”
The judges’ 3-0 decision also noted Maley’s third-party culpability defense “was based on unfounded suspicions” and that a defendant is not entitled to “‘throw strands of speculation on the wall and see if any of them will stick.”
“The trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding Maley’s third-party culpability evidence,” the decision states. “For the foregoing reasons, we affirm Maley’s convictions and sentences.”
Those sentences are a mandatory term of natural life in prison and 10.5 years for kidnapping Ortiz by restraining her as she was stabbed.
During the trial last year, Maley punched his court-appointed attorney Craig Kessler in the head minutes after the guilty verdicts were announced. Kessler was replaced by attorney Chris Kimminau for Maley’s sentencing hearing the next month, during which the defendant was shackled and under guard.
In an interesting coincidence, Kimminau was assaulted in a Cochise County courtroom last month by a client during a pre-sentencing hearing in a murder case.