DA: ‘Preparation’ is key to El Jebel murder case
The prosecutors in the murder case of Williams Anderson Amaya will focus on evidence at his trial they believe shows he knew what he was doing before and during the fatal shootings in El Jebel, according to 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown.
Assuming the case proceeds to trial, the issue won’t be whether or not Amaya pulled the trigger of a handgun he allegedly used to kill his aunt and uncle last summer, Brown said. The trial, which will likely be heard by a jury, will focus on Amaya’s mental state at the time, he said.
“The plea that he’s put in certainly does more than infer his culpability for the crimes, he’s just claiming a mental incapacity,” Brown said. “The issue will not be whether or not he committed the crimes but what his mental state was and whether he had the capacity to understand the actions he was undertaking were not lawful, in essence.
“He’s basically claiming he didn’t understand the nature of the acts he was committing at the time of their occurrence,” Brown said.
Amaya was living with his aunt and uncle, Eliseo and Maya Lopez, and their two boys at a home in Sopris Village. An argument erupted the night of July 12, and shots were fired from a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol, according to the investigation by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
The Lopezes were shot four times each. Investigators also said shots were fired in the beds of the two boys, but they scrambled to safety outside the home before they were harmed. Amaya fled the scene but was taken into custody early the next morning at his place of employment in Garfield County. He is facing nine charges, including two charges of first-degree murder and two charges of attempted murder.
Amaya pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Wednesday in Eagle County District Court. He was ordered by the judge to undergo a mental-health examination at the state mental health hospital in Pueblo. Brown said there is the potential that the results of the evaluation will alter his approach to the case, but actions taken in the case have made it clear how his office views it.
“Our original charges reflect that we do believe he had the mental capacity to commit the murders as well as the attempted murders,” Brown said. “Obviously, if we receive information which causes us to question our original conclusion, we’ll reconsider our posture.”
A key to the case for the prosecution will be Amaya’s actions prior to the shooting. Brown previously said that the gun Amaya allegedly used in the shooting was purchased that same day from a retailer in Grand Junction. Investigators discovered that Amaya was cleared in a required federal government background check performed by the retailer, Brown said in July.
Brown said Thursday that the evidence his team will introduce will include the manner and nature of the alleged murders.
“The steps of preparation that occurred that underlie the crime will be critical for a jury to determine mental state,” Brown said. He stressed that Amaya is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
If Amaya is convicted of the crimes, the District Attorney’s Office will seek a sentence of life in prison without parole, Brown said. If he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Amaya will be held in a treatment facility until he can prove he no longer faces mental issues, according to Brown.
The DA decided against seeking the death penalty. Brown said he conferred with his staff and allowed the defense counsel to weigh in before he made the decision. He looked at “a whole host of factors,” he said.
“I think the most prominent feature of any analysis in a death penalty case is prior criminal history and here, there was an absence of that,” he said
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