Close Up Of Gavel Resting On Its Sounding Block


A Pueblo County judge should not have allowed jurors to hear about the racist comments a defendant made toward his friend hours before allegedly assaulting his godson, the state's Court of Appeals decided on Thursday. 

Anthony Joseph Ianne's case had already proceeded through a three-judge panel of the appellate court, which upheld his conviction last November. But earlier this year, the Colorado Supreme Court handed down a key change in the law that caused the appellate panel to take another look at Ianne's trial. This time, it reversed Ianne's single assault with a deadly weapon conviction.

The morning that Ianne was packing his house and preparing to move, he received help from his godson and a friend of his, identified as J.M. in court documents. Ianne reportedly grew upset with how J.M. was handling his belongings and Ianne waved an axe handle — a stick with no blade — at him.

Ianne also called J.M. a "f---ing Mexican" and other related slurs. Eventually, Ianne left the house to calm down.

When he returned, there was a confrontation between Ianne and his godson. While Ianne testified the alleged victim grabbed him and Ianne reacted in self-defense, the godson said Ianne hit him with the axe handle. Jurors believed the prosecution's version of events and convicted Ianne in 2017.

One of Ianne's grounds for appeal centered on District Court Judge Thomas Flesher's decision to allow the jury to hear about Ianne's argument with J.M., including his racist language. The defense had argued it was improper "res gestae" evidence, meaning information about uncharged misconduct that would improperly lead jurors to focus on Ianne's poor character, rather than the charged offense.

Prosecutors argued the confrontation with J.M. was relevant to Ianne's later assault. It showed Ianne had previously been the aggressor, demonstrated his escalating anger, and would speak to Ianne's motive or intent.

For Ianne's first appeal, decided on Nov. 4, 2021, the panel of judges agreed with that rationale, noting how admissible res gestae evidence can provide a complete understanding of a crime's context if it is part of a "continuous transaction."

"Ianne’s break between arguments doesn’t render the evidence less integral to understanding his continued escalation of anger and violence that day," wrote Judge Craig R. Welling. "Therefore, we conclude that the aggression towards J.M. was a part of the criminal episode."

Ianne appealed to the state Supreme Court. However, soon afterward the justices abolished the use of res gestae evidence, determining it was being used simply as a shortcut to introduce jurors to information about a defendant's bad character. The court returned the case to the appellate panel for another review.

In light of the Supreme Court action, Ianne argued to the panel that the prosecution had urged the jury to convict him based on "his character for racism and propensity for violence." The Colorado Attorney General's Office acknowledged the racial slurs were not intrinsic to the assault charge, but said they nonetheless allowed the jury to understand Ianne's state of mind.

The appellate panel now agreed with Ianne that jurors could have used the evidence involving J.M. improperly when deciding on Ianne's guilt.

"Indeed, there is a reasonable probability that admitting the evidence of Ianne’s argument with J.M., his use of racial slurs and obscenities, and his threatening behavior with the axe handle toward J.M. earlier in the day ... affected the fairness of the trial by allowing the jury to convict Ianne based on implied propensity — he was violent and racist earlier; therefore he was likely violent during the alleged assault," Welling wrote in the June 9 opinion.

The panel reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.

The case is People v. Ianne.

Sign Up For Free: Denver AM Update

Your morning rundown of the latest news from overnight and the stories to follow throughout the day.

Success! Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.