Aspen woman pleads guilty to fourth drunken driving incident, sentenced to prison
A 49-year-old Aspen woman was sentenced to two years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to her fourth drunken-driving charge.
Melissa Murray is the first Pitkin County resident to be sent to prison for repeated drinking and driving following changes to DUI laws in August 2015 that made a fourth DUI a felony. Prior to that, all DUIs, no matter how many a driver received, were considered misdemeanors.
“In a sense, we’re punishing someone for a disease — the disease of alcoholism,” District Judge Chris Seldin said. “But this is a sentence that seems to be supported by the record.”
In sentencing a person to prison for felony DUI, judges must determine that all other options, including treatment and DUI court, have been exhausted, prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz said. In Murrray’s case, the probation department determined those options have been tried and that Murray continues to present a danger to the community, she said.
Another local woman sentenced to 10 years’ probation and 90 days in jail last month for her sixth DUI had not yet exhausted all those options, Seldin said at the time.
Murray was convicted of DUI in 1997 in San Miguel County and in 2010 and 2012 in Pitkin County, Oszczakiewicz said. Murray’s breath-alcohol content in the 2012 DUI, which she received while on probation for the 2010 DUI, was .357, which is more than four times the legal driving limit of .08, she said.
Murray’s fourth DUI occurred May 11, when law enforcement found her car partially in a ditch off of Highway 133, Oszczakiewicz said. She refused breath and blood tests in that case, she said.
Seldin chastised Murray for her latest arrest.
“You did drive under the influence in the Crystal River (Valley),” the judge said. “You’re just asking for a head-on collision to do that.”
In other court news Monday:
• An Aspen interior designer who admitted stealing hundreds of thousands from two clients will spend the next three years on probation.
Renee Bowden, 59, previously pleaded guilty to felony theft and must also serve 45 days in the Pitkin County Jail, 48 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to one of the victims, according to the sentence handed down Monday by District Judge Chris Seldin. The other victim in the case died recently, a prosecutor said.
“This is deliberate, calculated theft,” Seldin told Bowden. “The betrayal (by the victims) is acutely felt. You realize, ‘Oh dear Lord, I’ve been had.’
“It can shake a person’s trust in humanity.”
The victim who recently died previously told police that Bowden, also a real estate broker, agreed in March 2014 to provide discounted furnishings and building supplies for two condominiums he owned in exchange for the man listing the units for sale with her, according to court records. However, Bowden charged the man retail prices and didn’t fully pay vendors, who filed liens against the property.
That man, who lost about $163,000 in the deal with Bowden, reached a confidential settlement with her before he died and did not ask the court for restitution, said prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz.
The second victim, who lost about $148,000 to Bowden, appeared in court Monday with Aspen attorney Chris Bryan, who said the ordeal has “been incredibly troubling and expensive for her.” The woman hired Bowden to remodel a condo in Aspen, but contractors who were only partially paid filed liens on the property that she had to pay off, according to court records.
“She had to pay twice for some things,” Bryan said. “She used a lot of her life savings to invest in the property.”
Molly Owens, Bowden’s public defender, said Bowden has agreed to pay restitution and taken responsibility for her actions. In addition, the felony conviction coupled with the damage to Bowden’s reputation that comes with having her name in the newspaper “is a real sanction,” Owens said.
Bowden apologized to her victim in the courtroom Monday.
“I made a mistake and I do want to move forward to make restitution,” she said.
Bowden must pay back the woman who appeared in court Monday more than $191,000, which includes the original $148,000 plus interest. She also must pay the Colorado Department of Revenue more than $34,000 in restitution.
• A 33-year-old man who flooded the Pitkin County Jail this summer and fought violently with deputies said Monday that while he’s ashamed of his actions, the incident served as a wake-up call.
“I was out of control,” Benjamin Garrett said. “I put a lot of people in danger. I can’t believe how I could act like that.
“I am in a much better place now. If this hadn’t happened, I could be dead or … worse.”
Garrett, now stable and sober, was in the middle of a mental health crisis when he was arrested for possession of methamphetamines in August, said Molly Owens, his public defender. That crisis became much worse when he was taken to jail, where he hallucinated a gun battle going on outside his cell and fires being started, she said.
Garrett was able to destroy a sprinkler head in his cell that night, which flooded the basement of the jail and destroyed expensive communication and other computer equipment. Garrett then tried to choke a sheriff’s deputy who entered his cell to get him under control.
“First off, I’d like to apologize to the officers and anyone else involved in this situation,” Garrett said Monday. “I want to do everything I can to make this right.”
The incident does not reflect Garrett’s true nature, Owens said.
“He’s more kind and gentle than your average person,” Owens said. “The situation has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on his life.”
District Judge Chris Seldin agreed.
“The ironic thing is (Garrett) is, without fail, the most soft-spoken, humble person who’s ever walked into this courtroom,” Seldin said. “It’s night and day. You’re not that guy (who flooded the jail).”
Seldin sentenced Garrett to three years of supervised probation that will include sobriety monitoring, 48 hours of community service and a mental health evaluation. Garrett also must pay back Pitkin County more than $225,000 in restitution for the jail damage he caused.
• A 23-year-old Oklahoma man who admitted to stalking two young girls in downtown Aspen and injuring a boy while running from police was sentenced to four years in prison Monday.
Stephen Moore was initially sentenced this summer to four years in a secure halfway house within the Garfield County Community Corrections program. However, the program could not provide the type of treatment Moore needed and he was removed from it, said Beth Krulewitch, his lawyer.
That left District Judge Chris Seldin with no choice but to convert the sentence to a four-year prison term, Seldin said.
Moore was visiting Aspen in August 2015 when he repeatedly followed a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl in the downtown core area and took cellphone pictures up their skirts. When confronted by police, Moore fled on foot and ran over a 9-year-old boy, who suffered a laceration to his forehead that required stitches, chipped teeth and a sprained wrist.
Moore, who was given credit for the 545 days he’s already served, pleaded guilty to felony stalking, invasion of privacy for sexual gratification and felony child abuse. He must register as a sex offender when he is released from prison.
• A Carbondale man will serve 90 days in jail and spend the next two years on probation after admitting to terrorizing a random camper last summer, a judge said Monday.
Garrett Hughes, 30, apologized to the 66-year-old man who was sleeping in his car June 11 at the Prince Creek Campground near Carbondale when Hughes entered the campsite about 4 a.m. and began honking the horn, flashing his headlights and “doing doughnuts,” according to a police report. The man was not in court Monday.
Hughes returned to the campsite an hour later, did the same thing and had a confrontation with the man, who hit Hughes repeatedly with a crossbow. Hughes allegedly threatened to kill the man with a handgun, police have said. The two men did not know each other, police have said.
“That’s not the person I truly am that night,” Hughes said Monday.
Hughes pleaded guilty in November to felony menacing and his third drunken-driving charge. In addition to the jail time and probation, he must also undergo sobriety monitoring, an anger-management evaluation and put in 48 hours of community service.
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A man who was arrested Jan. 4 for allegedly firing a handgun during a dogfight near Crown Mountain Park is facing an additional charge for allegedly tampering with evidence. The suspect allegedly threw his handgun into the Roaring Fork River after the confrontation.