BRECKENRIDGE - An interview between a Summit Daily News reporter and Dillon Valley resident Michael Newcomb, who is accused of attempted murder, was abruptly cancelled Tuesday afternoon, when a district court judge signed an order to limit pretrial publicity.
The order, previously discussed in a hearing on the case, was signed just moments before the interview was scheduled to begin.
Newcomb, who is still in custody at the Summit County Jail, is charged with attempted second-degree murder, second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and two counts of felony menacing after he allegedly hit his wife in the back of the head with a hatchet during an argument in January.
The Summit Daily has previously reported details of the case as described by prosecutors in a press release and by law enforcement officers in Newcomb's arrest affidavit. They accuse the defendant of striking his wife in the head first with a hatchet and then metal pipe used as a door stop, fracturing her skull and causing her to need stitches.
But Newcomb's family has since indicated that he has a very different version of the story to tell. For now, he is unable to tell it publicly.
It was Newcomb's attorney, public defender Reed Owens, who requested the order to limit pre-trial publicity, referencing the one-sided nature of news coverage on the case, which he said could influence a potential jury pool.
Judge Edward Casias granted the defense motion, asking members of the media to refrain from publishing information that might prejudice possible jurors.
"I think certainly one of the functions of the press is to keep the public appraised of what is going on with cases, particularly cases that merit community review," he said. "But I do have concerns that the facts of the case are being presented in a way that will make it difficult if the case continues forward to find a jury base that has not heard much about the case."
While the Summit Daily has not been permitted to have any direct contact with Newcomb, members of his family have indicated in emails that he requested an opportunity to speak with a reporter regarding his case.
It is within the court's power to restrict the speech of all parties to a case prior to trial, including the defendant's, according to deputy attorney general Matthew Durkin. But Steve Zansberg, an attorney who represents the Summit Daily said, there have been decisions in previous case law acknowledging exceptions to that restriction, including when a defendant wishes to address details that have been released in public records, such as an arrest affidavit.
Newcomb is currently being held on a $7,500 bond.
If convicted, he could face up to 32 years in prison for the attempted murder charge. The second-degree assault charge, also a class 3 felony, carries the same penalty. But if convicted of both at trial, Newcomb would be required to serve consecutive sentences for the two charges, as they are classified as crimes of violence.
There is a plea deal on the table, but Newcomb has not yet accepted it.