Verdict returned on attempted murder

John Scarffe, Nederland.  Gilpin County resident Michelle Bialas was arrested on January 17, 2017, and charged with criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree and two counts of violating a protection order. According to the arrest affidavit filed on January 18, 2017, Gilpin County Sheriff’s Deputy Melissa Sternlicht was dispatched to an address in unincorporated Gilpin County at about 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17, 2017.


A male party called 911 and reported that a female cut him and he was bleeding from the neck. At the scene, the deputy found fresh tracks in the snow and followed them to the house. She found the victim, later identified as James Bynum, in a back bathroom in the bedroom. Blood was coming out of at least two locations on the lower part of his head and she requested that a medical team come to the scene.


Bynum told the deputy that the female and he used to be in a romantic relationship and identified her as Michelle Bialas. Sternlicht asked him if Bialas lived with him at the residence and he stated she did not. “He told me Bialas has been arrested twice before for domestic violence, where he was the victim,” Sternlicht wrote in the affidavit. “He told me she has only hit him in the past.”


Bynum told Sternlicht he heard a knock at his door and he looked out the peep hole and did not see anyone, so he thought someone had dropped off a package. He opened the door and she came in and immediately starting cutting him. It felt like a razor blade.


Sternlicht asked him if she had been drinking or using drugs and Bynum said he didn’t know but she has a problem with alcohol. Bynum was transported to Foothills Hospital in Boulder.


Investigators Bob Enney, Jeff Collins and Deputy Adami arrived on the scene, according to the affidavit. Adami found Bialas in a white Dodge Neon near the driveway. She was removed from the front passenger seat floorboard, taken into custody and transported to jail.


Collins interviewed Bynum at the hospital. Bynum said he opened the front door with his left hand and Bialas “comes from the right side outside the front doors and reaches around with her right hand, to the back of his neck and she states, ‘you mother fucker,’” according to the affidavit. Bynum recognized he was being attacked and retreated into the living room, grabbed the phone and called 911. Bialas then chased him into the bedroom.


When Bialas realized he was calling 911 she fled the area. He went into the bathroom and saw her fleeing up the hill. Bynum told Collins that he and Bialas have been in a relationship for the past 20 years and it started getting physical about 13 years ago. She has threatened to kill and cut him in the past. “Bynum stated Bialas is an alcoholic and drinks a pint of vodka a day,” according to the affidavit.


Enney said the doctor signed a form for “permanently disfigured and scarred.” Bynum was released from the hospital with 17 staples to his head and a minor cut to his nose by the nostril.


“Bialas is listed as the restrained party on two mandatory protection orders,” according to the affidavit. Both have Bynum listed as the protected party and are issued by Gilpin County Courts. The first order states the subject is restrained from assaulting, threatening, abusing, harassing, following, interfering or stalking the protected person. The subject is prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm or other weapon and from possessing or consuming alcohol beverages or controlled substances.


On January 18, Bialas was booked, and probable cause was found. Bond was set at $1 million, cash only. She stood trial on July 17 through July 20, 2017, charged with criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, first and second degree assault, burglary and violation of a protection order. Bialas pleaded not guilty to all five charges but admitted to the protection order violation during the trial.


Judge Dennis James Hall presided, and First Judicial District Deputy District Attorney Ali Shubert represented the People. Bialas was defended by Mathew R. Ferguson and Garen D. Gervey with the Colorado State Public Defender’s office in Golden.


Following Jury selection on July 17, Shubert called Bynum to testify. He explained the incident on January 17 as recorded in the affidavit.


During cross examination, the defense asked Bynum about a quit claim deed for the house and the property. Bynum explained that in 2005 Bialas had made out a quit claim deed for the property and house and had given it to him in case something happened to her. He filed the quit claim deed with the Court in December 2016 because the defendant bought a car and was driving when not sober. Bynum was worried she would have an accident.


On July 18, Judge Hall opened the trial without the jury present and said that by asking about the quit claim deed it opened the door so the district attorney could ask questions about the deed. The defense was misleading the jury by indicating that the deed was filed to get the house and the property.


The defense put it before the jury that the victim is lying and not telling the whole truth, and Shubert was rebutting the charge of fabrication that he wanted the house so he got the protection order against Bialas.


After bringing in the jury, Sheryl Donnelly, the paramedic at the scene, said she was dispatched to treat someone cut open and saw a trail of blood from the front door through the bedroom to the bathroom. A man was on the floor with a towel on his neck. She noticed a concentration of blood at the bedroom door and on the floor where he was sitting.


She cut his hair away from the wound and remembers a one-to-two inch clean cut, but she couldn’t see how deep it was. He also had a small laceration on the tip of his nose. Defense Attorney Gervey asked if losing less than two ounces of blood would have that big of an effect, and Donnelly said the biggest difficulty was stopping the bleeding.


Emergency Medical Technician Keith Enney testified that he was asked to see to Bialas and he tried to take her vital statistics but she refused treatment. Gilpin County Sheriff’s Investigator Jeff Collins testified that, after he got to the scene, Bynum was in the bathroom receiving medical aid. He went to the top of the driveway and a white Plymouth Neon was parked by a snow bank.


On the passenger’s side of the car was a coat, and someone appeared to be under the coat. He unlocked the passenger’s side car door, removed the coat and saw Bialas. He lifted her out of the car, put handcuffs on her and put her in the patrol car.


Collins identified the lady he took out of the car as the defendant in the courtroom. He gave Bialas her rights and she made two utterances: “James called me, so I’m going to jail.”


Collins said she was passed out and intoxicated. She was slurring her words and smelled of alcohol. An open bottle was in the car. She was transferred to the Gilpin County Detention Facility.


Collins took photographs of the blood trail from the front door through the living room, bedroom and into the bathroom. The blood was not tested because the suspect had no abrasions or cuts. “I didn’t have any doubts about whose blood it belonged to,” Collins said.


Collins said he laid placards along the blood trail throughout the house, and the vehicle was sealed. He took photos in sequential order from walking into the home, including spattered blood on the bannister, and of the victim and his clothing.


Blood stains ran down the front of the victim’s shirt, the back of his jacket and both sleeves. Two days later Collins went back to the house and used a metal detector to locate a weapon. With two and half feet of snow on the ground, he went up and down the path and did not find a weapon.


Collins had found a little red utility knife in Bialas’s purse but he didn’t think that was the weapon because no blood was on it. Upon answering questions from the defense during cross examination Collins said he was the lead investigator and it was his job to collect evidence and gather the facts.


Collins placed placards on hard surfaces except for one on the staircase rail and photographed all the blood he found. After talking to Bynum in the hospital he went back to the scene but didn’t go into the house. He did not collect any sharp objects in the house or go into the basement. He did not measure the distance between blood drops.


Since Bialas didn’t have any cuts or bruises he didn’t look for blood on her jacket, sweater or leggings.


He didn’t swab the door handles of the Plymouth or collect fingerprints, hair or footprints that would have shown she entered the house.


During cross examination from the prosecution Collins said he sent the suspect’s coat in for analysis but the results were inconclusive. He did not collect DNA samples from the house because she had lived there or from the car because it belonged to her.


The defense maintained that no investigation had taken place of a possible cleanup in the hallway, entryway or living room, and the investigator didn’t see any evidence of blood on the Neon’s passenger seat.


The defense called neighbor Jason Williams who lives next door to the house where the incident occurred. He was home at 2 p.m. and on the phone. He didn’t notice anything until the ambulance arrived.


After being advised of her rights that she did not have to testify, Defendant Michelle Bialas agreed to testify. She said she remembers that day. She had a job but didn’t go to work that day and went to the house at 305 Geneva Way.


Bialas said she owned the house with co-owner James Bynum. She bought the land and took out a loan for the construction of the house. Bynum didn’t contribute money. The deed was in her name. Neither she nor Bynum were able to afford the house alone.


In 2005 she drafted a quit claim deed in case something happened to her but did not file it with the county assessor. She gave Bynum a copy of it but did not authorize him to file it. In 2014, they refinanced the property and the lender required a quit claim deed. It was filed with the county and conveyed to herself and Bynum.


Bialas said she did not know Bynum had filed the deed, and she has been removed from the house. On the day she went to the house she was contacted by law enforcement. She was on the floor board of her car. She went to the top of the driveway at the top of the road 50 to 70 feet from the driveway because parking was not accessible in front of the house in the winter. The car was visible from parts of the house.


Bialas went to the front door and did not bring a weapon, she said. She walked down the cleared path to the house and knocked on the right side of the door. Jim answered the door and was on the phone, so she thought he was talking to the police.


She walked back to the car and never went into the house. “I didn’t cut, try to harm, kill or touch Jim Bynum,” Bialas said.


Under cross examination from the prosecution, Bialas did not deny that she had gone to work for a few minutes before her boss came in. She was supposed to be working and just left without calling in sick or notifying anyone.


Bialas had a new car, which she had for six months, and had a bottle of vodka in the car. She took three large pulls on the bottle because it warms her tummy and calms her, Bialas said. Bynum did not call her or invite her to the house. A protection order was in place and she was not allowed to go there.


Shubert read the terms of the protection order including the statement that she “shall not use alcohol or controlled substances.” Shubert asked, “You had a big bottle of vodka but otherwise had not been drinking?”


Shubert had Bialas clarify that the house and property was refinanced in 2014 because she and Bynum had been living together in that building and had a relationship. In the event of Bynum’s death her name was still on the paperwork.


“Do you remember law enforcement knocking on the window but you stayed there?” Shubert asked. Bialas said: “I was afraid. I knew I had broken the law.”


Shubert said: “You told them that he called you, so you lied to the police. At your house, you’ve never had a break in. Mr. Bynum knows you work during the day, and at around 2 p.m. you knocked on the door and you were angry with him.”


Bialas said: “No, I was sad and depressed. I was taking medications. I knocked on the door and he was saying, ‘She’s here right now.’” Shubert said the police testified she was highly intoxicated. “Why did you hide and put a jacket over you? When you told the paramedics to fuck off, were you helping them too?”


During closing arguments Shubert said Bynum had to live with this for months. He loved Bialas for 20 years but he’s not sure how he feels about her now. Bynum had serious bodily injury according to the nurse practitioner who treated him.


The crime scene was consistent with Bynum’s testimony. “I don’t have to prove what knife or blade was used. It was a conscious decision. It was her intent. Why go to the back of the head but to kill him?”


Bynum was a non-participant. All he did was open the door, Shubert said. Bialas admitted to violation of the protection order.


Mathew Ferguson for the defense said the prosecution has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case it’s not based on evidence but on the lack of evidence. “We don’t know how the injury happened to Bynum. Was it an accident? He did it to himself?”


On January 17, 2017, Bialas went to work and stayed for a few minutes. She hadn’t been to her home in a month, slept in her bed or seen her pets. She was depressed, sad, Ferguson said. She made the decision to violate the protection order. She took three pulls of vodka to get courage. There were two windows in the bedroom so someone could see where she was parked.


She knocked on the door, and he was on the phone saying she is here and attacking me. “We don’t have evidence from the people. She turned around and walked away. She drove 100 feet down the driveway and parked, thinking she will be arrested for violation of the protection order.”


Bynum made extremely serious allegations, Ferguson said. What does the physical evidence corroborate? Do you believe Bynum’s assertions beyond a reasonable doubt? The physical evidence does not support Bynum’s assertions.


Between Bynum’s height and that of Bialas is a nine inch difference, and with the steps in front of the door it is a 15 inch difference, and she jumped out of the side and reached around to the back of his head and slashed him? That is physically impossible, Ferguson said.


The neighbors live 63 yards away, and he could run out and get help. He ran all the way around the living room and not a drop of blood was on the coffee table or the living room rug. “She never chased him because she was never in that house. Not a single drop fell on the carpet.”


Why wouldn’t there be a footstep? No blood on the shoes? She tip toes around blood? He’s bleeding out of the back of his head. That doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible, Ferguson said.


Why does a woman who tried to kill someone walk away? She could have high tailed it out of town but she doesn’t. Her behavior is consistent with someone who violated a protection order. A person who is going to kill someone isn’t going to hide at the end of the road.


After the jury deliberated, they found Michelle Bialas not guilty of criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, but guilty of first and second degree assault because serious bodily injury was suffered, and guilty of burglary and violation of a protection order. Sentencing was scheduled for August 25, 2017, at 1 p.m.