Teen serving LWOP sentence in Colorado may get new trial

Colorado judge weighs Ybanez case in his mother’s death

New lawyers fault defense of man convicted as teen in mom’s ’98 death

Posted: 10/05/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT

Nathan Ybanez, shown in 2005, was convicted in the beating death of his mother, Julie. His new attorneys believe his lawyer at the trial had a conflict of interest after being hired by the teen’s father. (Denver Post file photo )

Eleven years after Nathan Ybanez was caught unloading his mother’s body from the trunk of her car, a judge is considering whether to grant him a new trial or reduce his prison sentence of life without parole.

Ybanez and his friend, Erik Jensen, got into a fight with Julie Ybanez in June 1998. She was beaten and strangled with a pair of fireplace tongs in her Highlands Ranch apartment.

In legal papers filed Sept. 28, Ybanez’s new defense lawyers claim that his trial attorney was ineffective at defending him, that Ybanez was denied his right to appeal his sentence and that the term should be reduced because Colorado’s sentencing law changed in 2006 allowing juveniles convicted of murder the possibility of parole after 40 years.

Ybanez’s new defense team, Chad Williams and Michael Gallagher, presented evidence at a week-long hearing in February and the legal papers are considered a final argument before Douglas County District Judge Nancy Hopf renders a decision.

The judge could schedule a hearing for oral arguments or she could rely on the legal briefs and issue a ruling.

Abuse claims disputed

Nathan Ybanez, now 27, says repeated abuse by his mother and father, Roger Ybanez, culminated in the murder.

Roger Ybanez denies the abuse allegations. Prosecutors believe Nathan Ybanez committed the crime because his parents threatened to send him to military school as a result of his rebellious behavior.

The new lawyers criticize former defense attorney Craig Truman for not raising the issue of abuse with jurors and say Truman was hired by Roger Ybanez to defend his son, creating a conflict-of-interest in presenting an abuse strategy during the trial.

“He needed an attorney willing and able to investigate and aggressively pursue all defenses . . . ,” the legal briefs say. “He also needed a guardian to consider his best interests, to monitor his attorney-client relationship and to act as a fiduciary on his behalf. He had neither.”

The defense also argues that Truman didn’t present witnesses and social-service documents that would have shown Ybanez was abused.

But Douglas County prosecutors Laura Rosenthal and Jason Siers say Truman did represent his client’s interests and that he asked Ybanez about abuse and the teenager repeatedly denied he was a victim.

Prosecutors say Truman discussed three trial strategies with Ybanez: he was a cold-blooded killer; he was an abused child who snapped; or Jensen instigated the murder.

Initial strategy criticized

Ybanez and Truman chose a second-degree murder defense strategy focusing on Jensen as the planner and Ybanez as a passive follower, prosecutors said.

Truman didn’t call witnesses to testify about the purported abuse because much of it was accusatory toward Roger Ybanez, and not the victim, Julie Ybanez, prosecutors argue.

They also say a doctor hired by Truman to evaluate Nathan Ybanez found the teenager had psychopathic tendencies that could not be cured, and that the defense lawyer did not think the information would help his client.

If a new trial is denied, Ybanez’s lawyers want the judge to re-sentence him to a lesser term and argue that the trial court did not advise him of his right to appeal. Truman did not file an appeal for Ybanez.

Prosecutors concede that the trial court erred in not advising Ybanez that he could appeal his sentence but believe he should just be resentenced to the same term he has now.

Jensen was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Felisa Cardona: 303-954-1219 or fcardona@denverpost.com