Attorney: Evidence will clear ex-inspector in monoxide deaths case
Ryan Summerlin September 23, 2011
ASPEN – With two valley men due to stand separate trials in the coming months for the carbon-monoxide poisoning deaths of a Denver family, arguments are heating up in Pitkin County District Court over potential witnesses and evidence.
In a motions hearing Thursday, Denver attorney Abraham Hutt, who represents Basalt resident Erik Peltonen, argued that the prosecution should provide the defense with more evidence regarding the construction-related work at 10 Popcorn Lane, where the family of four died.
Hutt said he needs a list of all of the people who performed work on the house after Peltonen inspected the home in 2005; the family died in November 2008. He suggested that the prosecution is wrongfully targeting Peltonen, a former city of Aspen building inspector who worked on the county’s behalf when the house was subject to government inspection.
“[Prosecutor Arnold] Mordkin is charging Mr. Peltonen for causing the deaths of four people, and we know that there were alterations to the home between the time Mr. Peltonen inspected the house and when the deaths occurred,” Hutt argued.
But Mordkin said it is not his job to provide that evidence. Even so, District Judge James Boyd instructed Mordkin to ask the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which conducted an investigation into the deaths, to provide Hutt the names of anybody who worked on the house after Peltonen inspected it.
Hutt contended that the new evidence would show “Mr. Peltonen did not cause the deaths of these people.”
Hutt and Grand Junction attorney Colleen B. Scissors, who is defending Brown, did make headway with Mordkin on other issues, such as the defense team obtaining information on some of the prosecution’s expert witnesses who are expected to testify at trial. Marlin Brown, 58, is scheduled for a jury trial beginning Nov. 28, Peltonen on Dec. 12.
Peltonen, 69, and Brown, a subcontractor from Glenwood Springs, face four separate negligent-homicide charges in connection to the fatalities of Caroline Lofgren, 42; her husband, Parker, 39; and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8. The home, four miles east of Aspen, did not have a carbon monoxide detector at the time of their deaths.
They are believed to have died on either Nov. 28 or Nov. 29 of 2008, during the Thanksgiving holidays.
The deaths prompted District Attorney Martin Beeson to call a Pitkin County grand jury to convene in July 2009. Brown and Peltonen were indicted exactly one year later.
Transcripts from the grand jury proceedings are closed to the public, so it has been unclear precisely what criminal roles Brown and Peltonen are alleged to have had in the fatalities. Hutt and Scissors, however, have obtained the transcripts.
But a civil lawsuit pending in Denver’s federal court, which some relatives of the victims filed, sheds some light on Peltonen’s alleged role.
Peltonen inspected the home in the summer of 2005 and signed off on the home’s snowmelt system, including a Munchkin boiler that leaked the noxious gas, “despite open and obvious violations of the Pitkin County Code and building regulations,” the suit says.
In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the county contends that it “did not install the faulty equipment. They only inspected it – two full years before the Lofgrens died.”
Brown is also a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the Pitkin County Community Development Department and a number of private contractors.
The county’s motion to dismiss it from the lawsuit is pending before a judge.