Judge quickly reverses decision on murder case mediation
On Monday Judge Stephen Dunn, ordered the prosecution and defense in the Michael Lane Sparks murder case to go into mediation and one day later, that order was rescinded.
A judge ordering the two sides into mediation is a very rare occurrence, especially in a murder case where the death penalty is on the table.
Sparks' attorney Randy Schulthies said he was blindsided by the judge's decision.
"I had no advance notice the judge was even considering the mediation,” Schulthies said.
He said prosecutor Mark Heideman and himself, agreed it probably wasn't something the judge could actually do.
"I think he came to the same conclusion that the judge had exceeded the scope of the rule by ordering it rather than by encouraging the parties to enter into mediation,” Schulthies said.
The proposed mediation would have been an effort to try to get this case resolved before the expense of a capitol murder trial.
Although the idea of mediation failed to launch, Bannock County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Heideman said he's hopeful there could be some kind of agreement to keep it out of trial.
"Although it's a more extreme case in the criminal justice system, it's still subject to resolution. And we're working on that, and we think there's a good chance we can resolve it short of trial,” Heideman said.
Heideman finishes out his time as Bannock County Prosecutor on Jan. 11, and there's some motivation to find an end to this capitol murder case, before the baton is passed to Steve Herzog.
"It will let him start his new term without a first degree murder case with a death penalty hanging over his head. And I think that's a good thing,” Heideman said.
But Schulthies isn't as confident that this case will end anywhere other than the courtroom.
"Is it possible we could resolve the case without a trial? Yes, but at the present time I'm anticipating to go to trial,” Schulthies said.
In May of 2011 Michael Lane Sparks was arrested and charged with the murder of his estranged wife, Judith Rachel Johnston.
Sparks is scheduled to begin trial in March.
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