1987: Jail escapee speaks
In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. Jail escapee speaksDarrell DeMotte, who escaped on Aug 12 from the Pitkin County Jail while on an evening stroll to view the sunset and take in some fresh air, had at least two close calls with a search dog and a deputy while he was hiding out and trying to figure a way to get out of the valley. DeMotte, convicted earlier this summer of second degree forgery for illegal use of a credit card, was facing six years in prison when he decided last week to escape, and has been at the Pitkin County Jail since Nov 12, 1986. He was caught after 24 hours of freedom, after Jail Administrator Jeanne Lederer spotted him at a lodge on the east side of town. In an interview with the Aspen Times this week at the jail, DeMotte said a big reason for his escape was his fear of what might happen to him in prison. He said he had heard “some rather shocking things” about conditions in Canyon City from other inmates at the jail, and from his jailers. He also said he believed prosecutor Chip McRory might be planning to file habitual criminal charges against him, which if he were convicted would mean a mandatory sentence of 40 years and a day in prison before he would be eligible for parole. “I’m only 25 now. I wouldn’t be out of prison until I was at least 65 years old,” he said.Speaking rapidly, eyes shifting constantly around the small holding area adjacent to the jailers’ desk and work area, DeMotte refused to discuss the escape itself but talked about what he did afterward (he was advised by Public Defender Jim Conway to not talk about how he escaped for fear it might taint prospective jurors if the escape charges led to a trial). In the days preceding the escape, he said, he had a fight with another inmate, Don Richards, over DeMotte’s insistence that Richards not bring an exercycle into the “day room” while DeMotte was there. That fight, he said, had led jailers to schedule a disciplinary hearing to determine if DeMotte should be locked in isolation for the remainder of his stay in the jail, “and I didn’t like the idea of locked up (alone) for the rest of the time I’m here.”A confessed homosexual, he said he also was suffering from “self-induced” anxieties and criticized jailers for not calling in a psychiatrist to work with him. He said he has been “talking with (Aspen) Mental Health, and it helps, but not to the point where I feel I’m changing.”These and other fears, he said, led to his decision to escape, noting that as a child he developed a pattern of running away from foster homes “and here I did the same thing. I didn’t think of the consequences.”After escaping at around 8 pm while a jailer’s back was turned during a walk outside the jail to view the sunset and get some fresh air, he hid among rocks along the Roaring Fork river and could hear the activities of the searching law officers. Later, he said, he shed his prison garb and made his way up river a short ways and hid in some bushes near Highway 82 as it leaves the east side of town. “One deputy parked so close to me, I could hear their calls on the radio,” he said.Although he had hoped to get out of the valley and make his way to New York to start over and to enroll in counseling programs there, he ended up spending the day by the river on the east side of town, drinking Pepsi bought from a vending machine with a $1.50 of so he had in a pocket. Since returning to the jail, he complained, he has been denied access to shaving gear and forced to wear only “prison greens” instead of the jogging shorts, sweatshirts and tennis shoes that other inmates can wear.Jailers also will not let him have any books in his cell, “not even my Bible,” will not give him his contact lenses, and he was locked up for three days straight – two days in maximum security, one day in his cell – and will not let him wear underwear.”I think it’s inhumane. I think they’re contradicting themselves… when they turn around and treat me like a mass murderer or something,” he said.He also said that since his escape, no inmates are being allowed outside the jail building for the short walks or suntanning periods that had become traditional prior to his escape, and that there has been “some name calling” directed at him by other inmates because if it.He said jailers had told him there will be a meeting of the jail staff Tuesday to discuss possible changes in jail rules to prevent future escapes. (Aug. 20, 1987)
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