A trial for a man charged in the October 2020 deaths of two people in Manhattan was postponed Monday.
Montrell Vassar is charged on a count of first degree murder as well as felony murder, under which a defendant can be tried for deaths that occur in the course of another crime even if the act of killing is done by another individual. The underlying felony associated with the crime is attempted aggravated robbery, with which prosecutors opted not to charge Vassar.
He’s accused in the deaths of Skylar Havens and Javon Gray, whom Deputy Riley County Attorney Trinity Muth argues were killed after being shot in the back in the 700 block of Allison Avenue. Vassar, though, claims he acted in self-defense and did not premeditate the killings.
Vassar’s counsel Christopher Biggs filed a motion for continuance at what was to be the pretrial hearing on March 7, telling presiding Judge John Bosch in court that he had recently taken on the case after prior counsel dropped out – something he says is a tough task to undertake. With the high stakes Vassar faces, Biggs says it is not possible to try the case as currently scheduled in a way that gives the defendant a fair chance at a defense.
Muth objected to the continuance, though said it’s a ‘catch-22’ for the State as he also doesn’t want the case to be overturned and come back for retrial if the defense is not fully prepared.
The trial was originally scheduled to begin in April.
Bosch granted the continuance for two weeks and rescheduled Vassar’s pretrial hearing for March 21 at 1 p.m. The trial itself looks to be slated for some time in September or November, though no hard date has been set.
Vassar agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial in conjunction with the continuance.
Bosch also expressed disappointment that neither attorneys had filed proposed jury instructions prior to Monday’s hearing, directly questioning the delay. Given the complicated nature of instructing jurors in cases involving underlying charges, Bosch says he wants the attorney teams’ proposed instructions as soon as possible in order for everyone – himself included – to be as prepared as possible for trial.
Bosch and Muth additionally had a tense interaction as the parties discussed the State’s theory entering the case and logic behind the charges as filed.