Defendant found guilty of being accessory to trooper shooting near Silt
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen CO, Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Nichole Brownell didn’t visibly react Wednesday afternoon when she heard she was found guilty of being an accessory to the 2006 shooting of a Colorado State Patrol trooper.
On Tuesday, she fell asleep in her chair during her trial. Her attorney, Chip McCrory, said outside the courtroom they had no comment. Brownell, of Silt, later had tears in her eyes. She turns 41 today.
Jurors found her guilty of two counts of being an accessory to first-degree murder after about 90 minutes of deliberation. She could face anything from probation to two to six years for one of the charges alone. Brownell was accused of helping Steven Appl hide and try to escape after he shot former Trooper Brian Koch on Oct. 24, 2006, during a traffic stop south of Silt. Koch left the State Patrol because of permanent injuries and is now a safety consultant with Conoco Phillips.
“I feel good,” he said when asked about the verdict. “I feel that the deputy DA did an excellent job in this case, and I just feel relieved.”
He said the shooting was the source of a lot of stress, pain and fear in the community and this verdict is the “start of the closure.”
Police believe Appl shot himself to death under blankets in the extended cab of a pickup truck at a police checkpoint the night after he shot Koch. They said Cori Graham, 29, of Debeque, was driving the truck. Graham, also accused as an accomplice, is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 8.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Fitch said she was pleased with the verdict and that it sends a message to the community that people can’t harbor dangerous criminals such as Appl.
Appl called Brownell after the shooting and told her he’d shot a cop. A group of people then left from Wayne Hangs’ house on Dry Hollow Road (County Road 331), witnesses said.
They drove around Silt and Rifle then returned, but were stopped by police who asked about the shooting and Appl’s vehicle parked near Hangs’ house. No one told police they’d seen Appl or that he could be in the house. Police searched the house and Appl avoided detection by burying himself in the dirt on the property, witnesses said. The next day, Brownell was driven to Silt, Rifle and Debeque. She drank enough that she passed out and later returned to Hangs’ house with Graham, a witness said.
McCrory maintained in closing arguments that Brownell hadn’t done anything illegal and she would have had to do more than just fail to call police to be an accessory.
Fitch argued that Brownell knew Appl was at Hangs house and left him there. She said, “You don’t have to send a printed invitation, cook dinner or tuck him into bed” to knowingly harbor someone. She also said Brownell brought Graham to the house and told Appl and Graham they had to leave. Fitch said Brownell told an investigator she hoped Graham would take Appl.
On the third day of trial Wednesday, McCrory called three friends of Brownell’s to testify in her defense. Their testimony contrasted with Hangs’ statements in that Brownell told Appl to go into the house on the night of the shooting.
Hangs, 45, also is accused as an accessory. He struck a plea deal with prosecutors that could lead to the case against him getting dismissed after an 18-month deferred judgment and sentence. Hangs is expected to be sentenced June 6.
Elms, a defense witness, said he came to stay at Hangs’ house with his trailer on the night of the shooting. He said as he left with Hangs and Brownell after she received the call about the shooting, they met Appl at the end of Hangs’ long driveway. He said only Hangs talked to Appl and Brownell didn’t say anything.
Elms also said that only Hangs spoke to police when they were stopped while returning to the house.
Josh VanGaalen, who said he might have had a crush on Brownell, testified that he gave Brownell a ride from a hotel in Rifle to Debeque the night after the shooting and didn’t hear anything about a plan to help Appl escape police. He said he left when Brownell said she didn’t need a ride back.
In closing arguments, Fitch asked why Brownell would get a ride 50 miles and tell the driver to leave if Brownell hadn’t already planned for Graham to give her a ride back. She’d also argued that a phone record of Brownell’s call to Graham around 9 a.m. proved they were planning the trip.
Brownell came to court Wednesday with blond hair falling back onto a white, short-sleeved shirt that exposed tattoos on both shoulders. She wore black cargo pants and a black belt with silver studs.
Fitch called Hangs again Wednesday as the prosecution’s single rebuttal witness. Hangs testified that he knew Appl was delivering meth for Brownell to sell, and that Brownell owed Appl about $15,000.
McCrory suggested in court that he would appeal the case and said he “vehemently opposed” 9th Judicial District Judge Denise Lynch’s decision to admit the evidence of Brownell’s alleged meth-dealing. McCrory later said he’d repeated his opposition to make a record for the appellate courts.
Lynch also denied McCrory’s motion for a mistrial and second motion for acquittal. She thanked jurors for their time after reading the verdicts.
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