POCATELLO — The pair of teenagers accused of the odious murder of an elderly Pocatello woman in March 2019 were both back in court Thursday.
Dustin Garrett Alfaro, 19, and Isaac Angel Rodriguez-Romero, 18, both of Marysville, California, appeared in front of 6th District Judge Robert Naftz Thursday via video conference from the Bannock County Jail. The separate hearings involved attorneys for Alfaro providing Naftz with an update to the case, which is currently in the midst of being mediated before another Bannock County judge, and Rodriguez-Romero’s new attorneys requesting the next two weeks to familiarize themselves with the case.
Rodriguez-Romero and Alfaro allegedly stabbed 87-year-old Arlyne Koehler to death inside her McKinley Avenue home in Pocatello over a year ago. Family members found Mrs. Koehler, who lived alone, dead inside her Pocatello home on March 19.
The two teens each face one count of felony murder in the first degree, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and a felony enhancement for using a weapon during the commission of a felony crime. Additionally, Alfaro allegedly destroyed the sprinkler system inside his maximum-security cell at the Bannock County Jail last October, resulting in an additional felony charge against him of malicious injury to jail property, according to court records.
Both teens were arrested on March 20 in California, less than 48 hours after Pocatello police held a press conference alerting the public about Mrs. Koehler’s murder.
The teens are accused of breaking into Mrs. Koehler’s house through a back window with the intent to burglarize the home, according to testimony from law enforcement during Alfaro’s preliminary hearing in September 2019. It didn’t appear as if anything was stolen from the home and Mrs. Koehler appeared to be sleeping when the teens allegedly stabbed her over 55 times, police testified.
Recently, the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office filed a motion in Alfaro’s case requesting for a protection order that would have prohibited them from providing Alfaro’s court-appointed attorneys, Dave Martinez and John Scott Andrews of the Bannock County Public Defender’s Office, with information that prosecutors are typically required to share with defense attorneys as part of the routine evidentiary sharing process associated with criminal court proceedings.
The information prosecutors motioned to protect related to two interviews police conducted on April 2 and 9 of this year with a confidential informant with knowledge of the case, as well as police reports, notes and documents associated with the confidential informant, according to court records the Idaho State Journal recently obtained. The state argued the protection order was necessary to protect the informant from “economic, physical or other harm or coercion.”
The Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment further on this motion when contacted Thursday.
Alfaro’s attorney’s argued that protecting the confidential informant’s identity and the information they provided police would adversely prejudice Alfaro and prevent him from being able to adequately prepare for trial.
“Alfaro cannot be adequately prepared for trial without being aware of the informant’s prior criminal record, associations, capacity for truth telling or circumstances which may indicate duress in obtaining the statement,” Alfaro’s attorneys said in written objection to the state’s motion.
The Bannock County Public Defender’s Office did not return the Journal’s Thursday request for comment regarding this story.
On June 10, Naftz ruled against the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office, issuing an order that requires the state to disclose to Alfaro’s defense team the identity of and the statements made by the confidential informant, so long they do not disclose to Alfaro who the confidential informant is or provide him with information that could reveal the identity of the informant.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Idaho Supreme Court has suspended criminal district jury trials until mid-September. The trials for Alfaro and Rodriguez-Romero were expected to begin in April and May, respectively. Both defendants currently do not have a trial date set.
Additionally, Naftz on Thursday appointed 6th District Judge Stephen Dunn to serve as the mediator in Alfaro’s case, which means prosecutors and defense attorney’s could strike a plea deal before initiating a jury trial.
Prosecutors have not yet determined whether they intend to seek the death penalty against Alfaro and cannot seek capital punishment against Rodriguez-Romero because he was a juvenile when the alleged crime occurred.
Both men face up to life in prison if convicted of the charges against them.
It remains unclear why, but Rodriguez-Romero is no longer being represented by court-appointed Pocatello attorney’s Robert Otto Eldredge Jr. and Matthew Willis, Naftz said during Rodriguez-Romero’s Thursday court appearance. His attorneys are now Charles C. Crafts and Benson Barrera, both of Boise.
Eldredge Jr. and Crafts did not return the Journal’s Thursday requests for comment for this story.
Rodriguez-Romero is due back in court in front of Naftz for another status conference hearing on Aug. 20, and Alfaro does not have a currently scheduled next court appearance pending the results of the mediation process.