AURORA | A district court judge ruled Wednesday that police and paramedics charged in the death of Elijah McClain will be tried in three separate groups, arguing that each group played unique roles in the 23-year-old massage therapist’s demise.
In the order dated Jan. 18, 17th Judicial District Judge Mark Douglas Warner decided that ex-cop Nathan Woodyard, former officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt, and paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper will stand trial separately for their roles in McClain’s death.
McClain was stopped, forcibly restrained and placed in a chokehold by police after they received a call about a suspicious person wearing a mask and waving their arms. He was never accused of or charged with a crime.
Paramedics arrived and injected McClain with what a forensic pathologist later found to be an overdose of the sedative drug ketamine. McClain never regained consciousness and died days later at a hospital.
The five defendants were indicted in 2021 for criminally-negligent homicide and manslaughter along with a host of lesser crimes.
“The paramedics, Cichuniec and Cooper, generally assert that the actions of the law enforcement officers occurring prior to their arrival were factually unrelated to their actions implicated in their cases,” Warner said in his ruling.
“The Court finds and concludes in the discretion of the Court that defendants Cooper and Cichuniec will be tried separately from the other codefendants based upon the alleged facts and circumstances in these cases.”
However, Warner said the arguments over how to try the three police officers was “more nuanced.” He pointed out that Woodyard alone placed McClain in a carotid control hold, which could have injured McClain and contributed to his death in a unique way.
While the forensic pathologist found that the maneuver was unlikely to have contributed to McClain’s death, Warner said that chokeholds used in martial arts competitions and by police in other encounters have resulted in “unusual deaths”
He ultimately ruled that Woodyard be tried separately from officers Roedema and Rosenblatt.
“The Court has made the foregoing orders based upon the charges alleged, the potential for spillover prejudice, to ensure a fair and just trial based upon the particular facts and circumstances alleged, to ensure a fair and just trial for the defendants, and the People of the State of Colorado who implicitly seek justice for the named victim and the family,” Warner wrote.
The five defendants are expected to enter pleas in their cases Friday.