By MATT MILNER
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — A judge’s ruling will limit the prosecution’s ability to introduce some evidence in Robert Pilcher’s murder trial.
When a defendant has been convicted of prior crimes it naturally raises the question of whether those convictions can be brought into a new trial. Such convictions can be powerful influences on jurors in deciding whether the defendant committed the crime they are in court for.
But there’s another issue in play. In order for prosecutors to raise those convictions before the jury, they must be relevant to the case being heard. If they are not, the judge hearing the case is unlikely to allow it in.
Pilcher is accused of first degree murder in the 1974 death of Mary Jayne Jones. Jones was sexually assaulted and shot to death in a farmhouse west of Ottumwa. Authorities say DNA evidence ties him to the crime.
Prosecutors asked that evidence on Pilcher’s prior crimes be admitted during trial, a request the defense opposed. Pilcher has a long record of charges including burglary, theft and escape. But those don’t appear to be the cases prosecutors wanted to bring up.
Online court records show Judge Richard Meadows ruled the state cannot bring in “evidence relating to [Pilcher’s] prior commission of sexual assaults,” until the defense “opens the door to such evidence.”
In other words, the defense will have to use some caution in order to avoid giving the prosecutors reason to tell jurors about the prior cases.
Pilcher’s trial is currently set to begin Jan. 14, 2014.