DA says death penalty unlikely in El Jebel double homicide

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Williams Anderson Amaya, in orange, is directed to the defendant's table in an Eagle County District Courtroom during a hearing earlier in July.
Eleanor Nesbit/Vail Daily News |

Prosecutors in a double homicide case in El Jebel probably won’t seek the death penalty for suspect Williams Anderson Amaya, 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said in a court hearing Monday.

Brown said he and his staff haven’t made a final determination, but at this point they are leaning against trying the case as a capital offense eligible for the death penalty.

“I don’t believe this will be a capital case. Having said that, it’s incumbent on me to treat Mr. Amaya’s case as any capital case would be and engage in a rigorous review of the relevant circumstances. It is just too early to perform that type of review,” Brown told Eagle County District Judge Russell Granger.

Granger scheduled a preliminary hearing in the case for Oct. 6. The District Attorney’s Office will try to present enough evidence to convince the judge that the case should go to trial.

Brown said he would be in position to tell Granger after the preliminary hearing, at the latest, whether the death penalty will be pursued.

“At this early stage, we don’t believe it’s going to be filed as a capital case, but again, I’m not willing to commit now to that path,” Brown said.

Amaya is accused of fatally shooting his aunt and uncle, Mayra and Eliseo Lopez, in their midvalley home July 12. Authorities claim he also tried to shoot the Lopezes’ two teenage sons. He is facing two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, four counts of crimes of violence and one count of tampering with physical evidence.

If the District Attorney’s Office doesn’t pursue the death penalty, Amaya will face multiple life terms in prison if he is convicted.

Brown said outside the courtroom Monday that “at first glance” the case doesn’t meet the “discretionary criteria” that prosecutors have when deciding whether to file a capital case. He declined to discuss what he has learned about the shooting that has influenced his thinking. Brown wouldn’t say if Amaya has talked to investigators in the case.

Autopsies showed the Lopezes were shot four times each. Bullet holes also were found in the bedding of their sons, who escaped injury.

Amaya was renting a room in the home at the time of the shooting. No motive for the shootings has been disclosed in hearings. An affidavit for Amaya’s arrest said witnesses in the house said Amaya was arguing with his aunt about the family dog right before the shots were fired.

Brown said it is too soon for him to know if there will be negotiations with Amaya’s attorney or any plea-bargain offer made by prosecutors. Thea Reiff, of the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office in Dillon, is representing Amaya.

Amaya is being held in the Eagle County Jail without bond because the judge determined he is a flight risk. Amaya, dressed in standard-issue orange jail overalls, conferred briefly with Reiff before the hearing. A translator explained all aspects of the brief hearing to him. Amaya’s only words during the hearing were to tell Granger that he understood he was waiving a right to have a preliminary hearing within 35 days of the charges being filed against him.

Reiff said she needs more time to review all the materials in the case to prepare for the preliminary hearing.

If the case advances, it will require a two- to three-week trial, Brown advised the judge.


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