A 12-person jury found Aspen jewelry seller William Evans guilty of felony theft on Thursday following three days of testimony in his Pitkin County Courthouse trial.
Evans, 78, also was found guilty of a misdemeanor count of false reporting to authorities. He was accused of stealing a gold-and-diamond Hammerman bracelet that belonged to Aspen hotelier Terry Butler, who in late 2011 asked Evans to sell it for her. The jury took a little more than an hour to arrive at its decision.
The trial was Andrea Bryan’s first as the prosecutor of felonies in the Aspen branch of the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Bryan replaced longtime Aspen felony prosecutor Arnold Mordkin in January after he was not retained by incoming District Attorney Sherry Caloia, who was elected to the post last fall.
Bryan, who formerly worked in Glenwood Springs under Caloia’s predecessor, former District Attorney Martin Beeson, said she was pleased with the outcome.
“I think justice was served,” she said. “I think our system works.”
The jury could have convicted Evans on a felony theft charge of an amount greater than $20,000, but chose a lesser category of theft between $1,000 and $20,000. Much of the trial testimony revolved around a determination of what the bracelet, a model that no longer is manufactured and is hard to find on secondary jewelry markets, might be worth.
An expert for the prosecution testified that the “retail replacement value” of the bracelet was $65,000, while an expert for the defense stated that the “meltdown value” of the bracelet for the gold and diamonds was less than $10,000.
Bryan said she wasn’t necessarily surprised by the jury’s decision to convict Evan on the lesser theft category.
“I think the jury carefully considered all of the evidence,” she said. “Either of the verdicts could have been supported by the evidence, as far as where the value went. They clearly evaluated it and made their decision.”
Bryan also said she didn’t think there was a particular tipping point in the trial. The prosecution’s case centered on a several different aspects.
There were conflicting statements that Evans made — according to Aspen Police Sgt. Dan Davis’ interrogations of him — concerning the bracelet being stolen from the back seat of his rental car, and where it could have been lifted. There was testimony provided by Butler about how she tried for several weeks in late 2011 and early 2012 to get Evans to return her bracelet, without success. There was much mention of an insurance policy that he took out just three days before reporting to Aspen Police that the bracelet as stolen.
And, the testimony included a comment that Butler says Evans made to her before he was to market the bracelet and another piece of jewelry, an expensive ring, out of state. He supposedly told her that the bracelet and ring were insured under his own policy, and “wouldn’t it be funny” if he were to leave them on the back seat of his car while traveling and they were stolen.
Butler testified during the trial that in hindsight, she should have viewed the remark not as a joke, but as an invitation from Evans to join forces in an attempt to commit fraud.
“I don’t think you can ever view a case with just one piece of evidence,” Bryan said. “There can be a ‘smoking gun,’ but in this case the jury really had to view everything in the totality of the circumstances.”
Evans was represented by defense attorney Lawson Wills, who stressed to the jury in his 47-minute closing argument that the prosecution’s case relied on circumstantial evidence. He also lambasted the Aspen Police Department’s investigation, which he claimed focused solely on Evans instead of exploring other potential avenues.
Wills said Butler “hijacked” the police investigation by being loud and emotional about her missing bracelet.
“Dan Davis and the Aspen Police Department are charged with removing that emotion and doing their job,” Wills said. “He completely, absolutely stopped doing his job in this case after talking with Terry Butler. He put on his blinders.”
Wills also took issue with the prosecution’s evidence of a City Market store video that showed Evans putting a bag containing a small object into his pocket just prior to phoning police to report the bracelet as missing. Evans, who reported the theft in late February 2012, was arrested in early April of that year.
Bryan said in her closing argument that despite the contention that her evidence was mostly circumstantial, it was still evidence. She asked jurors to rely on “common sense” to determine that Evans had tried to orchestrate a “cover-up.”
Wills did not return a phone message left at his Glenwood Springs office seeking a comment on the verdict.
Senior Judge Thomas Ossola presided over the trial. He set a sentencing hearing for Sept. 6 at 1 p.m.