Trial in killing of Adams County sheriff’s Deputy Heath Gumm underway

The trial for a man accused of killing an Adams County sheriff’s deputy more than two years ago started this week after it was delayed seven months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With social distancing and masks for everyone, jury selection began Tuesday for Dreion Dearing, 24, who is charged with first-degree murder in the 2018 killing of Deputy Heath Gumm, 31.

Dearing, who is also charged with assault, burglary and related counts, faces life in prison if convicted.

The trial is expected to involve around 150 witnesses and last for at least three weeks, and likely will include contested testimony from a jailhouse informant who says Dearing confessed to the killing while the two men were together in custody.

Gumm was shot to death Jan. 24, 2018, after responding to a call about a fight at the home of Peter Aquino, a former teacher at the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design. Aquino had sexually assaulted one of his students for years, in an ongoing pattern that began when the girl was about 15 and the teacher was 25.

The victim of the sexual assaults was Dearing’s cousin, according to a lawsuit she later filed, and on the night that Gumm was killed, she, Dearing and others went to Aquino’s home and confronted him.

Several people ran when the sheriff’s deputies answered the call about an assault at Aquino’s home in the 8700 block of Dawson Street, and the deputies gave chase.

Prosecutors say that as deputies ran after Dearing, he went behind a house, then turned and fired on deputies as they approached. Gumm was shot in the chest and died.

He was a five-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, aspired to become a detective, and was remembered by his colleagues as a leader who cared deeply about the community he policed.

Dearing initially faced the death penalty, but that was withdrawn at the request of 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young after Colorado repealed the death penalty in March. A judge declared a mistrial in April amid difficulty seating a jury during the pandemic.

The trial is expected to include testimony from Charles Fellows, a jailhouse informant who was housed with Dearing in June 2019. He is expected to testify that Dearing confessed to ambushing Gumm, according to motions filed in the case.

Fellows, who has a lengthy criminal history, is expected to say Dearing confessed that he “ran to a location where he could ‘post up’ and hide,” when running from the deputies on the night of the killing, and that Dearing saw Gumm approaching and knew he had to “shoot him where it counts,” according to a defense motion.

Defense attorneys for Dearing argued that Fellows should not be allowed to testify in the case, calling him a “professional snitch and liar,” and arguing that one witness who could expose Fellows as a liar was afraid to testify against him.

District Court Judge Mark Warner denied that request, finding that preventing Fellows from testifying was not appropriate under the circumstances of the case.

Opening statements could take place as early as Friday.

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