TECUMSEH – A district judge is being asked to decide if the government can withhold names of confidential informants regarding allegations that an inmate at the Tecumseh State Prison was stabbed over 130 times and suffered smoke inhalation in last spring’s inmate uprising.
State prosecutors asked Judge Vicky Johnson to prohibit defense attorneys from providing the 27-year-old defendant Eric Ramos with records that would identify prison inmates who have cooperated with investigators.
Investigators suspect that up to 15 inmates took part in the stabbing of Michael Galindo, and court records say there is an investigation into a second murder at the same time.
Maj. Christopher Connelly of the Department of Corrections said the state’s informants would be in danger of personal harm, if prisoners were to get their hands on a list of informants against Ramos.
The exhibits in question are already sealed by the judge and Public Defender Tim Nelsen objected to the idea that sealed documents are shared among prisoners. He said he has been the public defender since the prison opened and is unaware of that ever happening in Tecumseh.
Beatrice Defense Attorney Jeff Gaertig said the state’s desire to protect informants does not trump a defendant’s constitutional right to a defense.
Gaertig: “If the state wants to put this man in jail for the rest of his life, then they better be ready to put all their cards on the table.”
Nelsen reminded Judge Johnson that she has twice previously ordered the state to hand over the evidence to the defense, but the state has not yet fully complied.
Judge Johnson set a July 30 trial date for Ramos. She said Nelsen earlier advised her the trial could take up to five months because there are 160 inmates who have been identified as witnesses.
Judge Johnson asked prosecutors about statements withheld from the defense, including a statement from one inmate who said he saw the whole thing and said Ramos was not involved.
A May 4 hearing is also expected for the court to consider Nelsen’s motion of contempt of court for the state’s failure to comply with the judge’s earlier discovery order.