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Crime scene

Flagstaff Police Department tape blocks off the scene of the March 29 fatal stabbing near the Park Santa Fe Shopping Center on the east side of Flagstaff in this file photo.

The public defender for Phelan Connally, a 27-year-old man charged with manslaughter, has argued Connally’s way out of jail despite prosecutors allegations that his mother fears for her safety if he were released.

In March, Connally called police to report that he stabbed Jason Hart, 39, from Oklahoma, on the edge of Bushmaster Park and the Park Santa Fe Shopping Center on the east side of Flagstaff.

Connally’s public defender alleges that after discussion became heated between multiple people on the edge of the park, Hart slapped Connally. Hart was stabbed by Connally twice and his wrist was cut, which eventually led to his death. Connally has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charges against him.

Public defender Roberta McVickers argued that her client was being unlawfully jailed by having a bail that was set at an amount higher than he could afford.

Prosecutor Michael Tunink originally opposed the action, citing a danger to the community and arguing that Connally’s mother did not want him released for fear for her safety.

“Indeed, upon learning of the events of this case, Defendant’s own mother feared for her life if he were released,” Tunink argued, citing her statements from an official interview. He went on to say Connally’s “own family believes he poses a danger to them.”

Lara Connally, the suspect's mother, opposed the prosecution's characterization of her statements. She testified at the release hearing, saying that she did not fear her son.

“Phelan's entire family supports his release and do not have any reason to fear him,” Lara said in an email to the Arizona Daily Sun through McVickers after this article was originally published.

McVickers cited official assessments of her client that indicated he did not have a high likelihood to commit crimes during the duration of the case, and that he would likely show up at his court hearings if he were released. McVickers also cited federal rulings when she stated that Connally’s high bond had violated her client’s right to due process.

Connally’s bond, the focus of McVickers' argument, had been set at $100,000. She argued her client’s bond should be changed or he should be released from jail altogether.

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“By requiring a bond that Mr. Connally cannot pay, the court has effectively held him without bond and on an order of detention,” McVickers said in court documents. McVickers also said that despite what Connally said at the scene, he has pleaded not guilty to the accusations, and her client is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

Coconino County’s pre-trial services informed the court they would only be willing to monitor Connally if he was ordered to stay on house arrest with his mother. They also listed conditions that included he cannot drink or do any drugs, cannot have weapons including knives in the home, and can only leave the home for court, work or medical reasons.

After Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols took the matter under advisement, she eventually sided with McVickers and allowed Connally to be released from custody under the pre-trial services orders.

This article has been updated from its original version.

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Scott Buffon can be reached at sbuffon@azdailysun.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.

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Senior Reporter - Cops, Environment

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