The Arizona Daily Star, April 16, 1999

Boys Ranch case: `Give me some evidence'
By Rhonda Bodfield Sander

FLORENCE - At the end of the third day of the criminal case against five former Arizona Boys Ranch workers, defense attorneys had an unusual request: present evidence against the defendants.

``I've never had a case before where I've said, `Please give me some evidence against my client,' '' said Michael Piccarreta, representing former Boys Ranch staffer Troy Jones.

The day ended with the team of seven defense lawyers and several court observers still perplexed about the prosecution strategy of Pinal County Attorney Janna Vanderpool.

Not once has Vanderpool spelled out the precise reasons the five face charges of manslaughter and child abuse in the March 2, 1998, death of Nicholaus Contreraz, 16, at the Boys Ranch Oracle camp.

The first two days of the hearing to determine if the case will actually go to trial presented medical evidence of just how sick Contreraz was when he collapsed and died from an infection in the lining of his lung. He had been forced to exercise despite his pleas for help.

Yesterday's testimony was expected to recount the agonizing last day of his life. But the drama never surfaced. At least six people nodded off in the courtroom in the first hours of testimony, including one of the defendants.

Vanderpool and her chief witness, Pinal County Attorney's Office Investigator James McCormack, instead read through reams of testimony from former Boys Ranch residents and workers about Contreraz's general state of health and general policies at Boys Ranch.

McCormack had to be referred to page numbers to answer Vanderpool's inquiries. He was not involved in the Boys Ranch investigation but has reviewed the case for the past few months.

Defense attorneys peppered each statement with the same objection - there were few specific references to their clients. One of the defendants, Michael Martin Moreno, for example, has so far only come up once - for taking Contreraz to the nurse.

The state relied heavily yesterday on police interviews with two Boys Ranch supervisors who said Contreraz showed visible signs of illness. But the pair said they did not stop him from having to do exercises, even though one said the boy's breathing was so labored he had to pause in between words as he spoke.

Neither was charged.

The supervisors told police they saw bruises on Contreraz's body the day before his death and took him to the nurse. But neither they nor the nurse asked Contreraz who gave him the bruises, although the boy said he got them while being physically assisted the day before. Defense attorneys pointed out their clients were of lower rank than the two supervisors.

Lisa Stelly, co-counsel for the state, said prosecutors decided on the strategy to charge the employees closest to Contreraz at the time of his death, even though she acknowledged cases could be made that other employees might have higher levels of culpability.

The case dragged on so long yesterday the attorneys on both sides agreed to simply turn over the defendants' police interviews to the judge to review if Vanderpool agrees to limit the number of statements she will present today when the case resumes.

That will limit Vanderpool's ability to point out conflicting statements in the defendants' interviews.

Closing arguments are expected next week.

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