2006 murder, arson case set for trial in September

Becky Campbell • Mar 12, 2012 at 11:09 PM

After four years in limbo following a trial mishap, a 2006 first-degree murder case is back on track.

Poncho Juan Delgado, 43, of Johnson City, faces first-degree murder and arson charges in the May 25, 2006, death of Robert Curtis, 41.

During a brief court hearing Monday, Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp set a trial to start Sept. 10.

Curtis’ body was discovered inside his home after Johnson City firefighters responded to a house fire at 1607 E. Fairview Ave.

Investigators and prosecutors say Curtis had been stabbed multiple times in his upper torso and head.

The case went to trial in April 2008, and a jury heard testimony from four witnesses on the first day. But Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp became ill that night and ended up in the hospital.

After a series of confusing messages from Cupp to the clerk’s office and his secretary, jurors later said they understood the trial was canceled and they were discharged from it completely.

At the time, Cupp was adamant that he never canceled the trial or declared a mistrial.

Cupp did ultimately declare a mistrial after interviewing jurors who said they had already read about Delgado’s case in the media.

One juror had even served on another murder case in the two weeks between Delgado’s trial and when Cupp questioned the panel.

Delgado’s attorneys, Jim Bowman and Matthew Carter, appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. That panel determined Cupp was right to declare the mistrial and that Delgado would not face double jeopardy if he were tried again.

After the CCA ruling in June 2010, Delgado’s health had declined to the point he was unable to go on trial.

Delgado had been transferred from the Washington County Detention Center to the DeBerry Special Needs facility at Riverbend Maximum Security prison in Nashville.

He’s been receiving treatment there ever since for “a myriad of diseases,” his attorney said.

That is the reason he hasn’t already been to trial on the charges. On Monday, Delgado appeared to be in better health and was walking under his own power. Previously, he had attended court in a wheelchair.

Another change in the case is Bowman’s co-counsel. Since the first trial, Carter left private practice for a position with the Department of Children’s Services. Bowman now has Donna Bolton helping him on the case.

Delgado asked that Cupp send him back to DeBerry as soon as possible. Cupp agreed DeBerry is the best place for Delgado and signed the order from the bench.

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