In for Life: Day Three of the Michael Tate Trial

Before Wednesday, the three juvenile delinquents who were called to testify in a Jefferson County courtroom had not seen Michael Tate in almost three years. Back then, he was a sixteen-year-old boy, locked up in juvie for what he claimed to be murder -- although few people believed him.

Over the past three years, Tate has gotten a little taller, put a few more pounds on his skinny frame and has grown out his hair so long that eighteen-year-old Miguel Gonzalez didn’t even recognize Tate in the courtroom where he is facing first-degree murder charges for killing Steven Fitzgerald, the father of one of Tate’s few friends.

“It’s been a long time,” Gonzalez said when he was asked to identify Tate in the courtroom. “I don’t remember what he looks like anymore.”

But Gonzalez, who’d first met Tate when they both lived in a group home when they were young, then met up with him again at a Jeffco juvenile-detention facility, did remember that Tate was heavy into the dark side. He testified that Tate had told him he derived his powers from witchcraft and from the devil.

Seventeen-year-old Eric Candelaria remembered Tate from juvie, too.

“Tate said he went to go rob a house a couple days before and that they got in (through) a little window in the back or the side of the house and they came back a couple days later and were going to steal the dad’s car and the dad woke up and followed him into the garage and hit him and he hit him back with a shovel and he stabbed him with something,” Candelaria testified. He said he didn’t believe Tate’s story, until he read about Fitzgerald’s murder in the newspaper a few days later.

There were a lot of Tate tales that Candelaria didn’t believe, like when he talked about a place in the mountains where there are crazy invisible elfs that will kill you. And when Tate talked about the rush, power and energy that he receieved each time the devil put his hand on his back. Tate said that he worshipped the devil, Candelaria testified, and would carry a little black book around that he said he used to cast spells on people.

But the boys also talked about more mundane things. They would talk about life after juvie -- about smoking pot, chasing skirts and getting drunk. "He was pretty bad, but I wasn't going to judge him for what he did," Candelaria said.

Quite the contrary, actually: Candelaria even invited Tate to join his tagging and robbing crew, LBC, or Lochbuie Criminals. Tate was talking about killing himself, Candelaria testified, and he figured if he could just give the guy something to count on when he got out, maybe he would pull out of it. Sure, Tate was weird, but they both lived “in a special pod, with special kids,” Candelaria said, and most of the kids were pretty weird there.

Through most of the day’s testimony, which focused on fingerprints and footprints, Tate kept his head buried in his hands. But he livened up when Candelaria and Gonzalez testified. And then came eighteen-year-old Gerald Yoshimura, who is doing time at the Department of Corrections.

"Your honor, do I have to answer these questions?" Yoshimura asked the judge after taking his oath.

"I can't provide you with advice," Judge Jane Tidball told him.

"Well, do I get an attorney?"

No, he didn’t. And the prosecutors proceeded with their questions, starting easy, asking if Yoshimura is doing time for two felony convictions, then telling him that they were going to talk about 2004.

“Do you understand that, yes or no,” the prosecution asked. Again Yoshimura asked the judge if he was required to answer the questions. Counsel was called to the bench and then the prosecutors reminded Yoshimura that he was under oath.

“I do have the right to remain silent, why isn’t that being used right now?" Yoshimura asked.

At 4:59 p.m., when it became obvious that the prosecution wasn’t going to get much out of a witness whom they couldn’t force to speak, the jury was dismissed and day three of Michael Tate’s murder trial came to a close. – Luke Turf

Read about Day One Read about Day Two

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun