GOLDEN, Colo. (AP/CBS4) – Prosecutors said Wednesday they have filed an additional sexual assault charge against a teen accused of kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old Colorado girl.
The additional charge and a sentence enhancing charge of a crime of violence alleges that 17-year-old Austin Sigg used physical force and threats to sexually assault 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. Prosecutors also tweaked some language and corrected spelling errors in charges previously filed in Jessica’s disappearance and slaying Oct. 5. Jessica was abducted as she walked to school in the Denver suburb of Westminster.
Sigg is also accused of attacking a 22-year-old woman in Jessica’s neighborhood in May. She escaped.
Also during a hearing Wednesday, District Court Chief Judge Stephen Munsinger said he would bar the public and the media from a preliminary hearing for Sigg, saying he wanted to avoid influencing any potential jurors if Sigg’s case goes to trial. Sigg’s public defender, Mitchell Ahnstedt, argued for closing the Feb. 22 hearing because of “massive and pervasive” media coverage of the case.
Prosecutor Hal Sargent objected, arguing that juries in Jefferson County have fairly tried a number of high profile cases.
“I don’t think having it (a preliminary hearing) in public will impact having a fair trial,” Sargent argued.
Preliminary hearings are where prosecutors present evidence against a suspect, sometimes publicly revealing previously undisclosed information. A judge decides whether to hold a trial or release the suspect.
“It is fairly rare but the rules do allow for closing a preliminary hearing if a person is accused of a felony sexual assault as long as the judge makes certain findings of fact and conclusion of law to support the order and makes the order narrow enough to protect the interest of the party requesting closure and looking at any reasonable alternative to excluding for the entire hearing all members of the public,” CBS4 Legal Analyst Karen Steinhauser said.
Police arrested Sigg on Oct. 23. His mother told The Associated Press she called police and her son turned himself in.
Sargent, the prosecutor, said during the hearing that Sigg had not been a suspect prior to his arrest despite hundreds of police scouring the neighborhood and collecting cheek swabs for DNA from potential suspects as part of the search for Jessica and subsequent criminal investigation.
Sigg, who turns 18 next month, was charged as an adult and is being held in an adult jail. The original charges included four counts of murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count each of sexual assault on a child and robbery in Jessica’s abduction and slaying.
He was also charged with attempted murder, attempted sexual assault and attempted second-degree kidnapping in the attack on the runner and with six counts of crime of violence.
If convicted as an adult, Sigg faces up to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
Prosecutors said he confessed to kidnapping and killing Jessica and attacking the jogger. It’s not clear if he has made any comment on the charge of sexually assaulting the girl.
The 22-year-old woman said she was running in a Westminster park when a man grabbed her from behind and placed a rag with a chemical smell over her mouth.
Munsinger issued several orders in the case, including the preservation of evidence and investigator notes and emails sent between prosecutors and law enforcement.
Munsinger also barred prosecutors from using the jail’s electronic record keeping system to keep track of his defense team’s visits to the jail or to get updates on Sigg’s medical and mental condition. Munsinger granted the request after public defender Katherine Spengler raised concerns that such tracking has happened in other cases.
The next hearing in the case will be Feb. 8.
– By P. Solomon Banda, AP Writer
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