Trial continued in murder case

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

A trial has been continued for a man who is awaiting to be resentenced for a 2008 murder in Leavenworth.

A trial for Matthew Astorga was scheduled for Thursday in Leavenworth County District Court. But that trial has now been continued to Aug. 9.

The trial is needed as part of the process for resentencing Astorga for first-degree murder. He was convicted of the charge in connection to the Dec. 26, 2008, shooting death of Ruben Rodriguez in Leavenworth.

Astorga, 44, previously was sentenced to what is known as the Hard 50, which meant he was required to serve at least 50 years in prison before being eligible for parole.

But Astorga has to be resentenced because the state's old Hard 50 law was struck down following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Following this decision, state lawmakers passed a new Hard 50 law. And prosecutors are once again seeking a Hard 50 sentence for Astorga under the new law.

The new Hard 50 sentencing process requires a jury.

Attorneys for Astorga requested a continuance of the trial during a hearing Monday. Attorney John Kurth said the defendant strongly felt the defense was not ready for trial.

Assistant County Attorney Benjamin Rioux said the prosecution would be ready to proceed with the trial Thursday if necessary, but he did not object to a continuance.

Senior Judge Gunnar Sundby granted the continuance.

Astorga is charged in a separate case with battery on a county corrections officer. A trial in that case already has been set for Aug. 9.

Sundby said Monday that he was rescheduling the trial in the murder case for Aug. 9 as well. The judge said he will try to schedule a hearing with attorneys for both cases so they can discuss how to proceed.

Astorga is in custody at the Leavenworth County Jail as he awaits his trials. He asked Monday to be transferred from the jail.

"I cannot function under these conditions at all," he said.

Astorga argued he is unable to communicate with his lawyers from the jail.

"They won't send my mail from here," he said.

Sundby said he would speak with another judge about the matter.