The Nebraska Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of man convicted of conspiracy to deal drugs and robbery who had maintained that COVID-19 precautions prevented him from having a fair trial.
The court's 35-page ruling Friday upheld the convictions of Estrada Comacho, and the sentence imposed, 14-18 years in prison.
Comacho, according to court records, had worked in January of 2019 to arrange the purchase of a pound of methamphetamine for an Elk Creek man. But when given $5,000 for the purchase, Comacho walked away from the man's car parked outside a Grand Island apartment. Shots were then fired, with one striking the prospective purchaser in the face.
One witness who testified in the trial of Comacho was a bilingual Grand Island police investigator, Timothy Champion, who had tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing symptoms at the time of the July trial.
Champion, who had translated some phone calls Camacho made from jail after his arrest, was allowed to testify via a two-way video connection because of his infection.
But the Supreme Court rejected that argument, saying that while video testimony should be allowed only in rare instances — such as when a child victim would be traumatized by testifying in the presence of an alleged assailant — this was an instance when it was "clearly" appropriate to prevent those in the courtroom from exposure to a contagious virus.
In addition, the court ruled that Comacho's attorney had the ability to challenge the accuracy of the detective's translations, and that the jury could judge the credibility of the testimony, even though it was given via video.
The court also rejected other arguments raised by Camacho, including that there was a lack of evidence to convict him.