Judge orders boy who was abducted brought to courthouse

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro has ordered Cole Puffinburger brought to the federal courthouse today in case defense lawyers decide to call him as a witness in the trial stemming from the boy's 2008 kidnapping.

The government rested its case Tuesday without calling Cole, but defense lawyers Robert Draskovich and Todd Leventhal told Navarro they might have to question the boy under oath as part of their case.

Cole was 6 years old when he was abducted from his home on Oct. 15, 2008, and found unharmed several days later.

Two men, Jose "Miguel" Lopez-Buelna and Luis Vega-Rubio, are being tried on kidnapping and drug charges in connection with Cole's disappearance. Two other defendants, Erik Dushawn Webster and Roberto Lopez, are facing drug and money laundering charges.

U.S. Justice Department prosecutors allege Cole was abducted at gunpoint as revenge after his grandfather, Clemens Tinnemeyer, stole $4.5 million from Mexican drug traffickers.

But Draskovich and Leventhal, who represent Lopez-Buelna and Vega-Rubio, have accused the boy's mother and grandmother of staging the kidnapping to lure Tinnemeyer out of hiding with the money.

The mother, Julie Puffinburger, has denied the allegations under oath. She testified that she, her fiance, Billy Joe Murray, and Cole were in their Cherry Grove Avenue home, near Hollywood and Lake Mead boulevards, when intruders entered around 7 a.m. and took the boy.

On Tuesday, Draskovich and Leventhal told Navarro they will call Cole to testify only if they are prevented from introducing audio recordings into evidence of the boy's statements to investigators after he was found. Prosecutors are refusing to agree to allow the defense to submit the statements in court.

"The government doesn't want to let the jury hear what Cole has to say," Draskovich said after Tuesday's proceedings. "His statements show that he was held by white males who knew his family. He played board games and video games, which is what he often did when he was with his family."

Leventhal added, "The statements are going to show that he was well taken care of and not abducted by a major drug cartel."

Navarro, who will have the final say on whether Cole's statements can be introduced, ordered prosecutors to make sure Puffinburger brings Cole to the courthouse by 1 p.m. today should his testimony be needed.

Earlier Tuesday, Navarro denied motions by the defense lawyers to dismiss kidnapping and hostage-taking charges against Lopez-Buelna and Vega-Rubio.

Navarro said prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to allow the jury to decide the fate of the defendants.

But she told lawyers on both sides that she was intrigued by the decision facing the jury in the wake of the divergent theories of Cole's disappearance that were presented in court.

"I think it's really a toss-up either way, she said.