Aftermath of teen crime spree closer to an end
The jurors who convicted native Aspenite Anthony Rizzuto of armed robbery last Friday were unanimous in their feelings about the case from the moment they began deliberations, one juror said Sunday.
“I was surprised, actually, that it didn’t require more discussion one way or the other,” said the juror, who asked not to be identified.
She said that when the foreman conducted the initial poll of the jury, one juror voted to acquit “just so there would be some discussion,” but “there certainly was no arm-twisting that went on.”
Asked about what impressed the jury the most about the four-day trial, she said, “To me it was just the whole thing, the case taken as a whole. It wasn’t that we particularly felt one thing stood out.”
She also said the jury members “took it very seriously” as they deliberated.
“Everyone felt this is a terrible tragedy, the families and everything,” she said. “The whole process is extremely difficult when you’re talking about people’s lives.”
The jury, which was handed the case by Judge J.E. DeVilbiss shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday, deliberated for less than half an hour, declining an invitation from the court to have dinner brought into the jury room.
The jury of five women and seven men found Rizzuto guilty of committing armed robbery, theft of between $500 and $15,000 worth of goods and conspiracy to commit armed robbery at the Aspen Alps Condominiums office on Aug. 6, 1999.
He is to be sentenced on those charges, as well as an earlier conviction for conspiracy to commit theft, in early February.
Prosecutor Lawson Wills, in his closing argument, argued that “this is a story about several young men,” referring to a dozen local teens who in late 1999 committed a series of armed robberies, burglaries and other crimes.
Rizzuto was one of those teens, who Wills said now make up “a pretty fractured group” of friends and former friends, some of whom testified against Rizzuto in this trial, including convicted felons Moses Greengrass, Jacob Richards, Cody Wille and Alex Cassatt.
Defense attorney Joe St. Veltri questioned the credibility of witnesses who themselves stand convicted of felonies stemming from the crime spree, arguing that they were merely trying to improve their own standing with authorities by fabricating stories to implicate Rizzuto.
Rizzuto himself has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and St. Veltri strove to create a feeling of reasonable doubt among the jurors as to his client’s guilt, hammering away at the motives and morality of the prosecution’s chief witnesses.
St. Veltri repeatedly maintained that one of the witnesses, convicted burglar Cody Wille, made up a story about hearing Rizzuto and several others talking about the robbery that night when the entire group was gathered at Wille’s house.
Wille’s story is similar to one told by Richards, who said he heard it from Rizzuto, Colver and Greengrass several days after the robbery. St. Veltri said Wille must have read Richards’ story in court documents and decided to copy it to curry favor with the prosecutor.
But Wills, rejecting St. Veltri’s arguments, said Wille and other witnesses “displayed a tremendous amount of courage” and had “taken responsibility” for their parts in the crime spree and their role in telling the truth now about what happened. He noted that, because they testified for the prosecution, they face potential retribution from fellow inmates when they return to prison but have decided to testify anyway to clear the air.
Wills also strove to counter certain potentially damaging testimony by some witnesses that was being highlighted by St. Veltri.
One such remark was a claim by convicted robber Greengrass, who allegedly provided the pistol used in the Alps armed robbery, that he did not hand the pistol to Rizzuto until 11 days after the Alps robbery occurred.
Greengrass had testified several times while being questioned by Wills that he could not remember the events Wills ascribed to him in early August 1999.
These alleged events included such things as handing the pistol to Rizzuto on the night of Aug. 6; talking that night with Rizzuto, convicted Alps robber Thomas Colver and Richards about how the robbery occurred; and telling other crime spree participants at other times that Rizzuto and Colver were the ones who robbed the Alps.
But under questioning from St. Veltri, Greengrass said he did remember one thing quite clearly: that he gave the realistic-looking BB pistol used in the Alps holdup to Rizzuto on August 17, not Aug. 6 as alleged by police.
Wills, reminding Greengrass that he had testified a day earlier to having almost no memory of early August 1999, declared somewhat sarcastically, “But you can remember it now,” at least as far as what happened on Aug. 17.
“Yes,” replied an unruffled Greengrass.
Wills later urged the jury to give Greengrass “absolutely zero credibility” in deciding Rizzuto’s fate, because “Moses Greengrass is trying to help his co-conspirator, Anthony Rizzuto.”
“I didn’t find Moses at all credible,” remarked one of the jurors, particularly noting Greengrass’ claim that his memory of events is better now than it was a year ago because he has not been using drugs and alcohol for a year.
Wills also took a few verbal swings at private investigator David Olmsted, who has worked for Rizzuto and Wille, apparently doing some work for both families at the same time.
Olmsted admitted having been paid $12,000 by the Wille family and $5,000 so far by the Rizzutos. He indicated that he is now working solely for Rizzuto.
Wills questioned whether Olmsted acted ethically in working for both defendants, particularly when he “cautioned” Wille about testifying in court that he overheard Rizzuto talking about the Alps robbery on the night of Aug. 6.
Olmsted denied that he had acted improperly and testified at one point that he was concerned that Wille had made up the story in an attempt to help convict Rizzuto and improve his own chance for a reduction in his prison sentence.
But Wills, in his closing remarks, argued that there was little likelihood that Wille and several other witnesses, all of whom testified to their belief that Rizzuto robbed the Alps, would either be inclined or able to conspire against Rizzuto.
Wills also had to overcome the refusal by Colver to say who it was that robbed the Alps with him that night. Wills noted that Colver and Rizzuto were “best friends,” or certainly better friends with each other than with the others in the group of 12 teens.
The prosecutor, in his closing, told the jury that “What Thomas Colver didn’t say speaks louder than what he did say.” He noted that Rizzuto’s name is the only one that has never come up in any of Colver’s statements to authorities, and that he has admitted that he went back to Cody Wille’s house with Rizzuto immediately after the robbery but never fully explained how he and Rizzuto met up.
Rather, he maintained, Colver and Rizzuto did the robbery to ingratiate themselves with their friends, who had robbed the Clark’s Market grocery store on Aug. 5.
“They wanted to be included … they wanted to be part of the crimes … they wanted to be recognized as part of the crowd,” Wills argued.
Concerning Colver, a juror said, “He just wouldn’t tell on his friend.”
But that was not compelling enough to convince them that Rizzuto was innocent, she said, because, “We thought there was other testimony that was pretty overwhelming.”
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