11/1/2011 2:32:00 PM Judge rules Sylar Newton's remains to stay in custody
Nancy Collins and Christina Priem
By Scott Orr Contributing Reporter
PRESCOTT -- The judge in the child abuse case against Nancy Collins on Monday agreed to an emergency defense motion to continue holding the remains of 2-year-old Sylar Newton, found dead at the Beaver Creek campground last summer.
Attorney Sebrena Shaw filed the motion when she learned that the state was about to release the remains to Newton's biological mother.
Collins, 57, faces charges of child abuse in the case, as does her daughter, Christina Priem, 37, Newton's custodial mother. Priem also faces drug charges linked to the child's death.
Sylar Newton's remains were found in a wash less than 2 miles from the Beaver Creek Campgrounds on Aug. 10, 2010, after he was reported missing July 25, 2010.
Newton went to the Beaver Creek Campground with Priem, her two children, a family friend and Collins on July 23. Priem said she last saw Newton at 12:30 a.m. July 25 in a tent with the family, and discovered him missing at 1:45 a.m.
A family member called the Sedona Fire Department about 15 minutes later, but the call did not make it to the sheriff's communications center. The campground host called the Sheriff's Office at 2:30 a.m., and deputies arrived about 30 minutes later. A massive search began to find Newton, who went missing wearing only a diaper.
Witnesses at the campground told detectives Newton appeared as if he was under the influence of a narcotic or medication, Yavapai County Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said.
Campers staying near where Newton disappeared told deputies they saw Priem or Collins verbally abuse and push him to the ground the evening before he went missing, according to a search warrant. Campers also told deputies they heard him crying between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., but nothing after that.
The motion filed on behalf of Collins included an email from Doctor Richard Trepeta, who was hired by the defense to conduct a forensic examination of the child's remains. He visited the Yavapai County Medical Examiner's Office on Aug. 26.
In his Oct. 2, 2011, email, Trepeta stated that, when the staff brought him a box containing the remains, "the box was secured at the top with two pieces of tape and the flaps were tented open, and an approximate 6-inch gap, exposing the contents of the box."
This, he said, "raises the issue of security of the contents of the box and the integrity of the remains."
Trepeta added that "there were multiple envelopes and plastic bags, most of which were not secured in a closed and sealed manner" and that "there were numerous bags that were labeled that had no contents."
"Due to the fact that the evidence box and the envelopes and bags found with were open, I had no way to confirm that they were definitively related to this case or that other human remains had not been mixed in with them," Trepeta wrote.
He asked that the remains be held until the case was closed, "in the event we need access to them for further study."
Trepeta did report that he found "no toxicology evidence to indicate foul play" and no evidence of homicide.
Shaw said "vast amounts of discovery" still need to be done, despite the family's need for closure.
Deputy County Attorney Dana Owens argued, "An abundance of time has passed since last March, and the chain of custody issue was raised without merit."
"If evidentiary issues are really a concern, no one has requested any interviews with any of the numerous medical professionals in this case," she added.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley said she was inclined to allow the defense more time. "I believe this court does need to apply a balancing of rights for the victim and the defendant," she said. "When it comes to discovery, even though the cause of death may not be an issue" the defense expert may still have testing to do.
She agreed to hold off on the release until mid-January 2012.