Attorney: Second defendant in Basalt assault case close to reaching plea disposition
Daniel Wettstein could face a sentence ranging from probation to six years in state prison
A second defendant in an alleged Basalt assault and kidnapping case has worked out a plea bargain that could potentially keep him out of prison.
The attorney for Daniel Wettstein and the prosecutor in the case said in Eagle County District Court on Wednesday that they have reached a disposition but needed additional time to finalize the paperwork.
According to defense attorney Michael Fox and 5th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Johnny Lombardi, Wettstein would plead guilty to second-degree assault by strangulation. In return for the guilty plea, the DA’s office would make it a non-aggravated charge, which would remove it from a sentence range of five to 16 years in the state prison system, Lombardi said. Instead, the DA’s office would reserve the right to argue for a prison sentence with a cap of three to six years.
Fox said there is no requirement for prison, so it would allow him to argue for probation or community corrections.
Fox also noted that the actual plea would be what he considers “legal fiction” because there was no allegation of strangulation in the case. That specific charge was agreed to because it would remove the higher sentence range, he said.
The other defendant in the case has already reached a plea agreement and has been sentenced. Mufasta Muhammad, 24, was sentenced in March to seven years in state prison and three years of mandatory parole once he is released. He pleaded guilty to second-degree assault, a crime of violence. He was eligible for a sentence of seven to 10 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections under the plea deal.
Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman, who presided over Muhammad’s case, asked the attorneys why the sentence of Wettstein should be different from that of Muhammad.
He noted that Muhammad pleaded guilty and was eligible for five to 16 years in prison with an agreement of a range of seven to 10 years.
Wettstein is eligible for two to eight years in prison with the DA agreeing to pursue no more than three to six years, per the agreement.
“I’m just trying to get a position in my mind on whether this is a plea I’m accepting or not,” Dunkelman said.
Lombardi indicated the DA’s office viewed the defendants differently. Muhammad had a criminal history, “he was the initial aggressor” in the Basalt beating, and he was the facilitator of alleged narcotics transactions connected to the case, Lombardi said.
Fox said he would outline at a future sentencing hearing why the case of his client was different from that of Muhammad.
Police arrested Muhammad and Wettstein for allegedly holding a man against his willing during a night of partying Aug. 26 and into the next day. The man claimed he was held at gunpoint and beaten numerous times at the townhouse that Wettstein and Muhammad shared on Evans Court in Willits. The victim said he escaped through a second-story window early on the morning of Aug. 27, climbed down from the roof and sought help from a neighbor.
Wettstein, 35, was taken into custody when police responded and asked him to exit the residence. Muhammad remained in the house for an extended time. Police responded with an armored vehicle and SWAT team. Muhammad eventually surrendered without incident.
Wettstein bonded out of jail and entered a rehabilitation center for military veterans. Muhammad was unable to post bond. He served 203 days in Eagle County Jail by the time he was sentenced March 17.
The victim of the assault spoke briefly in court Wednesday.
“These two guys, they almost killed me,” the victim told Dunkelman. He said his injuries have resulted in nightmares, headaches, problems eating because of damage to his teeth and difficulty at his job. The victim also said a hospital continues to demand payment for his treatment.
Dunkelman confirmed with Lombardi that restitution would be part of the sentence as well as an extension of a protection order prohibiting Wettstein from having contact with the victim.
Dunkelman scheduled the next hearing for 9 a.m. May 12, when the disposition will formally be presented to him. If he accepts it, sentencing would be at a later date, he said.
The differences between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Michael Buglione — whether professional, political or personal — were on full display at Thursday’s candidate debate held in Aspen.