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Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt heard closing arguments yesterday in the 10-day trial to decide how congressional districts in Colorado will be redrawn. The judge did allow parties in the case to submit new proposed maps to him before midnight last night and democrats, republicans and a group representing the interests of Latino voters all planned to submit new maps. However, before going back to the drawing board, parties in the suit presented their final pitches to the judge on the maps for which he had heard two weeks of testimony. Neither democrats nor republicans seek dramatic changes to the 3rd congressional district, which runs from Pueblo, through the San Luis Valley and around the western slope. The Latino forum and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association want Pueblo, the foothills and San Luis Valley to split with the western slope and join the eastern plains and Greeley in the 4th congressional district. Just when Judge Hyatt will rule in the case has not been announced. An appeal is likely regardless of the ruling.

State Agricultural Commissioner John Salazar said yesterday that an aggressive campaign to market safe Rocky Ford cantaloupes after sales of the melons were decimated by a listeria outbreak will rely heavily on growers. Salazar said that his office is working hard to organize a group of growers, with 100% participation, to figure out some sort of protocol to ensure the safety of the crop. The campaign may result in a “Rocky Ford Certified Label for Cantaloupe”, Salazar said, adding that the campaign should produce two results: to show that growers are committed to meet safety requirements and to regain consumer confidence that rocky ford cantaloupes are the best in the world. Salazar said a precedent for a state-backed food safety program already exists. He said that the potato growers association already has such a system in place.

Lee Grace Dougherty, who appeared in Huerfano District Court yesterday, entered a plea of not guilty on all charges. Dougherty appeared in court shackled, her hair in braids and wearing a striped county-issued jumpsuit. A two-week trial has been set for February 21st. Dougherty, 29, and her brothers, Ryan Dougherty, 21, and Dylan Stanley-Doughtery, 26, are suspects in a crime spree that began on August 2nd in Florida and included high-speed car chases, shooting at police officers and robbing a bank. All three were captured on august 10th on Interstate 25 on the north side of Walsenburg. Lee Grace Dougherty was shot in the leg after the suspects’ car was forced to stop and crashed. She appeared in court without her brothers. She faces 29 complaints that include five counts of criminal attempt to commit murder. The brothers face disposition hearings on November 28th. They are being charged separately from their sister.

Loretta Santistevan, 52, of Trinidad, appeared in Las Animas County Court on Friday to plead guilty to reckless manslaughter in the 2010 death of a 58-year-old woman. As part of the plea agreement, charges of first-degree murder and sexual assault were dismissed. A sentencing hearing in the case has been scheduled for January 13th. Another suspect in the case, Jerry Van Gundy, 39, also of Trinidad, will appear in court on November 22nd. In April, both were charged with felony first-degree murder, sexual assault and reckless manslaughter in Las Animas County District Court in connection with the July 28th, 2010, death of Lucille Garcia of Trinidad.

Xcel Energy announced yesterday that it will back away from future solar plans for the San Luis Valley and will likely withdraw support from a new transmission line to the area. Xcel officials said that declining power demand forecasts, a sluggish economy and uncertainty over federal policy led to the proposed moves. The news came as the utility filed its 7-year resource plan and another set of transmission updates with the Public Utilities Commission. The announcement is a reversal from company statements in recent years that it could require up to three 250-megawatt solar plants with the San Luis Valley as a likely home. A spokesperson for Tri-State Generation and Transmission said yesterday that the company had not decided whether or not to move ahead with the transmission line proposal on its own. The company does feel that the need to improve reliability in the valley still exists.