Aspen judge dismisses, reduces charges in hostage incident
A District Court judge Thursday reduced or dismissed three of the most serious charges filed against a Colorado Springs real estate broker accused of taking three men hostage and threatening to kill them last summer.
However, District Judge Chris Seldin confirmed that enough evidence was presented at a preliminary hearing last week to back up 15 other felonies that have been filed against Brolin McConnell, 30.
The changes to the charges faced by McConnell include one of the two counts of attempted first-degree murder he faces, which Seldin reduced to attempted reckless manslaughter. That charge relates to shots McConnell allegedly fired near the head and feet of hostage victim Blake Ramelb.
“If McConnell had wanted to actually shoot Ramelb at this range, he could have simply held the gun up directly to Ramelb’s head and fired,” Seldin wrote in his order. “But there is no indication that, having taken two shots near Ramelb at different times that went into the ground and the air, McConnell realized he had missed his target and fired again.
“Had he wished to do so there was nothing preventing him since Ramelb remained standing right next to him.”
Instead, while the shots McConnell fired near Ramelb were “grossly outrageous,” they were more “consistent with warning shots rather than with an intent or purpose to kill,” Seldin wrote in his order.
Harvey Steinberg, McConnell’s Denver-based lawyer, made a similar argument Jan. 24 during the preliminary hearing, and on Tuesday said he was glad the judge threw out that count.
“I think the judge had no choice but to do what he did,” Steinberg said.
Seldin did, however, find probable cause to confirm the second attempted first-degree murder count, which says the crime was committed with “extreme indifference.” McConnell’s repeated threats to “kill multiple people on multiple occasions,” the “random, unprovoked nature of his actions” and the fact that he did fire at least one of the 9mm handguns he brandished were enough to bind over that charge for trial, Seldin said in his order.
Seldin also found probable cause to bind over a charge of first-degree kidnapping in relation to Ramelb because McConnell appeared to ask for $100 million in exchange for Ramelb’s release, according to the order.
However, the judge dismissed two counts of attempted first-degree kidnapping in relation to the two other victims allegedly held at gunpoint because McConnell made no such ransom demand in connection with them, the order states.
The judge also found probable cause to charge McConnell with three counts of second-degree kidnapping, 10 counts of felony menacing as well as violent crime sentence enhancers for the attempted murder and kidnapping counts because he used handguns, according to the order.
Steinberg said he was gratified to see one of the most serious charges faced by his client reduced and the two others dismissed.
“I thought the case was way over-charged,” he said.
Prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz declined to comment on Seldin’s ruling Thursday.
McConnell remains incarcerated at the Pitkin County Jail on a $500,000 cash-only bond. Steinberg asked Seldin to reduce the bond last week to a $200,000 property bond backed by McConnell’s parents’ home in the Colorado Springs area, but the judge said no.
“The danger to the community (in McConnell’s case) is more significant than a murder where the parties knew each other,” Seldin said last week at the end of the preliminary hearing. “Here the victims are wholly random. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“So anyone could be at risk if they come across Brolin McConnell at the wrong time. The risk to the public that it suggests is extreme.”
The incident on Lincoln Creek Road took place in the early evening of July 27. The first two victims, Mark Meredith and Brian Buchanan, were traveling together and were the first to be stopped by McConnell, who had parked his truck so it blocked the road and forced the two men out of their car at gunpoint.
Ramelb drove up later and also was held at gunpoint. Meredith and Buchanan were first able to run away from McConnell when he became distracted. Ramelb, however, had a cast on his foot or leg and was held longer, though he too was able to run away when McConnell again became distracted.
Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies and an Aspen police officer were able to apprehend McConnell almost immediately after Ramelb ran away. No one, including McConnell, was physically injured in the incident.
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A Colorado Springs realtor who took three men hostage and terrorized them at gunpoint on Independence Pass in July 2016 faces up to two decades in prison after accepting a plea deal Tuesday.