Richards granted public trial, stays with attorney after conflict hearing


Collin Richards, who is charged with first-degree murder, is led to his seat by attorney Paul Rounds before his first court appearance. Judge Bethany Currie ruled there will be an open trial.

Danielle Gehr

A Story County judge ruled Friday morning Collin Richards, the man charged with killing a former Iowa State golfer, will be granted an open trial. 

While reviewing a request for a closed hearing at the Story County Courthouse, Judge Bethany Currie said media access to the trial would have a positive impact on the trial, as media helps ensure a fair trial. After a conflict hearing that followed, Richards chose to keep the same representation, Paul Rounds, after it came to light he had previous contact with a state witness.

Friday was Richards’ first appearance in court since he was charged with murder in September due to his preliminary hearing being cancelled. He has been charged with first-degree murder after the body of Celia Barquín Arozamena was found at an Ames golf course, Coldwater Golf Links.

Barquín Arozamena had sustained multiple stab wounds to her upper torso, head and neck, according to the criminal complaint. A witness at the scene helped lead investigators to Richards.

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The Story County prosecutor Shean Fletchall argued media coverage would have a negative impact on the trial, as there is a risk of prejudice. He acknowledged journalists serve the purpose of ensuring there is no misconduct that could cause an unfair trial. Fletchall countered this point by saying there will be many other opportunities for the attorneys to argue any misconduct. 

“This is not the forum for him [Rounds] to air any grievances against the Story County Attorney’s Office,” Fletchall said. 

He said he can assure the court there has been no malfeasance by the state.

Rounds countered that he appreciates Fletchall assuring there has been no state misconduct in this case, but “it’s not as simple as the state saying we didn’t do it.”

Rounds argued for Richards’ right to a public trial, saying the state already released “a great deal” of information. He said the state now wants to close the trial to keep the media from hearing something the state does not want them to hear. Fletchall denied this was the intention, adding a press conference Rounds mentioned was not held by the Story County Attorney’s Office.

The defense would be at a great disadvantage, Rounds said, should there be a closed trial. 

Judge Currie said merely a risk of prejudice is not sufficient to close a trial. She also noted Rounds will be referencing page numbers during the trial rather than speaking outwardly of witness testimony and jury selection will weed out any jury bias. 

She said with all the media coverage, so any chance of media creating bias has likely already happened.

After Currie made her ruling, the court moved into the conflict hearing requested by Fletchall regarding Round’s former contact with an opposing witness to his client, whose name is being withheld from the public. 

After the motions for a conflict hearing and a closed trial were filed earlier this month, Rounds filed an objection soon after and accused the state of “prosecutorial misconduct.

During the hearing, Rounds accused the state of using the potential conflict as a way to push him out of the case. Fletchall denied this, and Judge Currie added this was a necessary step to ensure a fair trial. 

Rounds said he had minimal interactions with the witness, only ever speaking to her over the phone briefly. He said he had involvement in the witness’ case in 2015 and 2016 but has little recollection of what the case details were, claiming to not even remember what the violations.

There was a two-day overlap before it was discovered that someone in Rounds’ office was working with the witness. The office decided to drop the witness’ case as it was a simple misdemeanor while a murder case costs more money, and there are less lawyers capable of doing the job, Rounds said.

He added another legal counsel working for Richards, Michelle Wolf, has had no contact with the witness.

Judge Currie asked to address the defendant and after several questions making sure he understood the potential bias and his right to request new counsel, Richards said he would not like to request new counsel.