Jury finds Amaya not guilty by reason of insanity in El Jebel double homicide
A jury found Williams Anderson Amaya not guilty Friday of all five counts he was facing connected to the slaying of his aunt and uncle in El Jebel in July 2014.
The 12-member jury deliberated 12 hours — eight hours Thursday and four hours Friday — before reaching the verdict.
They found Amaya not guilty by reason of insanity of two counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of Eliseo and Mayra Lopez, two counts of first-degree attempted murder for shooting at the beds of the Lopez’s two teenage boys and one count of tampering with evidence.
Amaya acknowledged he fatally shot his aunt and uncle, but he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Amaya, 35, isn’t a free man. He will be held by the Colorado Department of Human Services “until such time as he is deemed eligible for release,” said Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman. The judge ordered that Amaya be transported as soon as possible to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, where officials will determine where he is treated.
A juror from the Roaring Fork Valley, Joe Mitchell, said the case was extremely frustrating because the burden of proof was on the prosecution, led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan. Amaya had to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which meant he had to be found sane.
“What everybody had a hard time with was the reasonable doubt thing,” Mitchell said.
The jury started deliberations at about 1 p.m. Thursday. “We were split almost 50-50 as soon as we went into the jury room,” Mitchell said.
Seven people felt Amaya was guilty and five felt he was not guilty as deliberations started. Mitchell credited the jury with working through the evidence and taking their responsibility very seriously. They were determined to reach a verdict and not be a hung jury that couldn’t reach a conclusion.
The jury went over evidence on a chalkboard. They enacted a scenario where an investigator contacted Amaya on the phone before an arrest was made. The difficult part, Mitchell said, was putting personal feelings aside and abiding by the judge’s instructions to base their decision strictly on the evidence.
The toughest part for Mitchell and others was reaching a verdict of not guilty given the fact that the Lopezes were killed and their boys orphaned.
“At least half of the (jurors) felt it wasn’t justice for the family,” Mitchell said. “There were people crying in the jury room. It was upsetting for some people.”
Thea Reiff, one of the public defenders on Amaya’s defense team, said the key witness in the case was Dr. John Hearn, a forensic psychiatrist who is among the mental health experts contracted by the state government to undertake evaluations at the state mental hospital in Pueblo. He wasn’t paid by the prosecution or the defense.
“At the end of the day, there was only one expert opinion from the court’s doctor on the issue of sanity, and that was that he was legally insane,” Reiff said.
The jury had an extremely tough decision, she said, but they rightfully applied the required standards.
“The only issue for the jury was whether the prosecution had proven sanity beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said.
Hearn diagnosed Amaya with having schizophrenia after interviewing him Nov. 6. “He was legally insane at the time of the crimes,” Hearn said while testifying earlier this week.
Reiff said it was a truly an “awful case for the victims and their family and the community.” She also said it was one of the most definitive cases where she’s represented a defendant who truly met the standard of insanity, rather than being mentally ill.
Mitchell said some jurors were frustrated that they couldn’t find Amaya guilty under the parameters of the law. He said he thought Kirwan did a good job presenting the case against Amaya.
“It’s just kind of hard to say he was sane at the time,” Mitchell said.
Mayra Lopez’s mother, present in the courtroom throughout the trial, was distraught after the verdict was read. She was sobbing as she departed.
The case cannot be appealed by the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office because that would constitute double jeopardy, according to Kirwan.
“It’s the end of the road from the prosecution side,” he said.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Judge Mark Thompson, who presided over courts in Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake counties, will not resume his duties as a judge upon his eventual return from planned time off. He has been charged with a single count of felony menacing.