Alleged robbery accomplice testifies, closing arguments upcoming
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
In the aggravated robbery case against 20-year-old Benjamin Weeks, the prosecution rested its case and the defense declined to present any additional evidence Wednesday afternoon.
Weeks, who is accused of robbing a Carbondale convenience store at gunpoint alongside his cousin in February, also declined to testify in his own defense.
Most of the day was consumed by the testimony of Weeks’ cousin and alleged accomplice, 20-year-old Nicholas Ameral, who pleaded guilty in July and is now serving a prison sentence. The bulk of Ameral’s testimony, which was forced under court order, was that he did not remember details of the robbery, the subsequent manhunt or what he told investigators during interviews.
Though investigators have said throughout the case that Ameral implicated his cousin as the second robber in early interviews, Ameral would not do the same at trial.
He did testify that Weeks was with him just prior to the robbery, while hanging out with a couple of young women, and after the robbery when they fled law enforcement. But he would not testify that Weeks was his accomplice in the crime.
He said Wednesday that he did not remember what he said during those conversations with police.
Carbondale Lt. Chris Wurtsmith, however, testified that Ameral did implicate his cousin in the robbery, during an interview soon after their arrest.
At that time Ameral said he and his cousin had both decided to rob the Valero, according to Wurtsmith. Ameral also said at that time that his cousin had brought the pistol, the lieutenant testified. Investigators also have stated throughout the case that Weeks was the one who wielded the gun at the Carbondale Cowen Center.
During that police interview, Ameral expressed a desire to make things easier on himself, and he wanted to know if talking to investigators would improve his situation, Wurtsmith said. Ameral also had said that when he was ready to turn himself in while on the run in the mountains, his cousin was still 100 percent not ready to give up, according to Wurtsmith.
However, Ameral testified that, during that early interview with investigators, he was “still very dehydrated and not in the right state of mind.”
Lee Damuth, a district attorney’s investigator, testified that during a recent interview with Ameral at the Colorado Department of Corrections, the inmate said that the truth was Weeks was not at the robbery, that he had previously made a false statement because he was scared.
Ameral explained that his “memory is shot” due to a combination of a learning disability and drug use. “My mind is just, … I do a lot of drugs, sir,” he said at one point to Assistant District Attorney Ben Sollars.
He said that he was “very inebriated” the night of the robbery, having been drinking and smoking marijuana while he was hanging out with Weeks. And he said that he doesn’t recall the events of that night.
He also said he was inebriated on the day he leapt from a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus and fled police, and therefore he couldn’t remember many details of those events.
A juror also submitted a question to Ameral: if it wasn’t Weeks, who was the second robber?
Ameral responded, “I plea the Fifth,” but Judge James Boyd told him that wasn’t an option during that proceeding. Ameral replied, “I can’t say that, sir.”
After the jury went home for the day, the judge also granted a defense motion to dismiss two of the felony aggravated robbery charges that specifically referenced the cashier, Ana Escalante, as the victim.
The judge reasoned that Weeks could not have committed aggravated robbery against the female cashier, essentially because she was not on duty at the time. Escalante was merely keeping her boyfriend, Misael Ramos, company that night as he worked the closing shift. Therefore she did not have the right to exercise control over the stolen money, nor was she the one who opened the cash register for the robbers, according to Boyd.
That ruling reduces the charges against Weeks to two felony counts of aggravated robbery and two felony counts of menacing.
Closing arguments are expected to begin this morning, and then the case will be given to the jury for deliberation.
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A lawyer for a local couple facing charges for allegedly allowing teenagers to drink alcohol at their home asked Monday to delay the case until January.