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Man wins new trial over witness problem

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The Utah Court of Appeals on Thursday awarded a new trial to a man convicted of trying to rape a 13-year-old girl.

Raymond John Chavez was not allowed to fully confront a witness testifying against him at his June 2000 trial for first-degree felony rape of a child, the unanimous court ruled. Jurors found Chavez guilty of attempted rape of a child, also a first-degree felony.

At trial, a man who had been in jail with Chavez, 35, testified that Chavez admitted to raping the girl in December 1999.

The man was incarcerated at the time of Chavez's trial and was also serving as an informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. However, prosecutors successfully argued that information should not come out, as it could compromise the man's safety.

Jurors did learn that the man had testified for state prosecutors at least 20 times, that he had a criminal history that included felonies involving dishonesty and that he was awaiting sentencing for one of those crimes.

Thursday's opinion overturns 3rd District Judge J. Dennis Frederick's decision not to allow defense attorneys to question the man about his position with the DEA and his custody status.

"That (the man) had a then-current relationship as an informant with the DEA and that (he) was incarcerated at the time he testified in this case are precisely the types of topics appropriately addressed on cross-examination to show possible witness bias," the opinion, written by Judge Gregory K. Orme, states.

Also, the opinion states, because the girl's story of the alleged rape varied between statements to police and her testimony at trial, it is likely the man's testimony "heavily influenced the jury's decision."

The case will go back to Salt Lake's 3rd District Court for a new trial.