D.A.: No happy ending to this trial
“There is no happy ending to this trial,” said defense attorney Lisa Wayne, shortly after her client, Stefan Schutter, 18, was convicted last week of robbing a local grocery store at gunpoint.
As Judge Thomas Ossola read the jury’s verdict last Friday evening, Schutter’s mother, relatives and friends wept openly as they sat in the front row in the gallery at the Pitkin County Courthouse.
The defendant, who had been talkative and smiled occasionally just before the jury returned after nearly eight hours of deliberations, sat silently as the verdicts were read. His face was still, but his eyes were glancing stonily from juror to juror as the judge asked each juror if he or she agreed with the verdicts.
When told a short time later by a jailer that he would be led out by a side door, Schutter replied in a defiant but shaky voice, “I don’t give a f-k!”
Even special prosecutor John Clune of Eagle admitted afterward that he found the trial somewhat “depressing,” while at the same time feeling “relieved” that the jury had accepted his version of events surrounding the Aug. 19, 1999, robbery.
“I thought it was a pretty good verdict,” Clune said. “I know [the jury] had a lot of tough things to consider.”
In general, Clune said somberly, “This wasn’t one of those cases where you want to leave the courthouse and give high-fives to everyone and celebrate. I feel relieved. But this is a depressing case.”
After a four-day trial, Schutter was found guilty by a jury of five women and seven men, convicted on one count of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, and a second charge of theft of more than $500 and less than $15,000.
He was acquitted of a related charge of second-degree assault. That charge was based on the prosecution’s theory that Schutter was the only man in the robbery carrying a gun, and that he pistol-whipped store manager Greg Miller before he and two other robbers ran out of the store with approximately $10,000.
Clune said Schutter now faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison, and a likely maximum of 12 years, for the aggravated robbery conviction. On the theft charge, he faces a likely maximum of six years in prison.
Schutter also faces yet another trial early next year, on charges that he was one of a group of teens who robbed the Clark’s Market grocery story on Aug. 5, 1999.
Defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt said there will likely be an appeal filed on Schutter’s behalf, noting, “Of course, we are disappointed with the verdicts. Mr. Schutter will evaluate all of his options, and I’m certain he will appeal, and take all other steps allowed him by the law.”
The two robberies were part of a series of crimes committed in August and September of last year by a dozen local teens. Five of those involved have taken plea bargains from the district attorney’s office and are serving prison terms of up to 12 years.
Four received probationary sentences that involve close supervision by the 9th Judicial District Probation Department.
Three, including Schutter, opted to put their fates in the hands of local juries. The other two still facing trials are Thomas Colver, 19, and Anthony Rizzuto, 20, who together are accused of pulling off an armed robbery at the Aspen Alps condominium complex on Aug. 6, 1999.
The second trial, Colver’s, will start on Sept. 12, with Aspen prosecutor Lawson Wills in charge of the state’s case.
The final arguments
On the last day of the Schutter trial, attorneys for the two sides gave final arguments in their attempts to persuade the jury to accept their version of the case.
“Stefan Schutter thinks that there is honor among thieves, and he’s wrong,” said Clune to the jury, pointing to the fact that several of his friends had implicated him more than once as being involved in the crime spree last year.
Defense attorney Wayne hammered away at the credibility of the state’s main witnesses against Schutter – Jacob Richards, 19, Cody Wille, 18, and William “Wade” Hammond, 19, – who are all serving time for their roles in the crime spree.
Repeatedly referring to these witnesses as “the kind of individuals” who “don’t care what an oath is,” she employed sarcasm and criticism in determined efforts to attack their reliability as witnesses.
“You don’t think he’s the kind of individual who will say whatever he has to say to save himself?” she asked the jury, noting that Richards has a reputation around town for dishonesty and is known by the nickname, “Snake.”
Clune, moving to shore up his witnesses’ credibility, noted that, “When you have an armed robbery, your witnesses might be armed robbers.”
But, he said, simply because they are convicted robbers and thieves does not mean they can be automatically assumed to be lying when they testify, and the defense offered no evidence that they were lying.
Recounting statements to police and testimony in court by Hammond, Richards, Wille and witness Abbey Norton, a friend of Schutter’s, Clune painted a picture for the jury that placed Schutter at the scene of the crime.
Wille testified that Schutter had alerted him to monitor a police scanner that night for indications of a crime that was about to occur.
Richards said he had talked to all three of the Village Market robbers – Hammond, Schutter and Moses Greengrass – after the robbery, and that all three had told him they were involved.
In fact, Richards said, Schutter made the remark, “I can’t believe I did it [hit the store manager]. I hope the guy’s not dead.”
Hammond, while he only tentatively identified Schutter as the third robber and claimed he could not remember details of the robbery, gave indications under Clune’s lengthy questioning that the three of them had been together that night. Clune also read from a transcript of Hammond’s statements to police soon after being arrested, in which he clearly implicated both Greengrass and Schutter.
And Norton recalled that she and Schutter’s brother, Devon, had gone to Snowmass on a Thursday night, although she could not recall the exact date, to give Schutter and others a ride back to Aspen.
Clune, referring back to his “honor among thieves” remark, noted that for Richards and Wille to come back and testify “honestly and truthfully” about their knowledge of events took considerable courage.
“If there is any honor here, it comes from Jacob and Cody,” he told the jury, because they “decided to take responsibility and testify against their own friend.”
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