Guilty plea entered in the Basalt robbery

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Rafael Vega Sanchez

EAGLE — The third of three men who kicked in the front door of a woman’s home and robbed her at gunpoint has pleaded guilty.

Sergio Sanchez, 24, of Rifle, admitted his guilt Monday morning as the jury was being selected for his week-long felony trial. Sanchez pleaded guilty to Aggravated Robbery with a Deadly Weapon, a Class 3 felony, with a Crime of Violence sentence enhancement. He also pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Second Degree Burglary, a Class 4 felony. Sanchez is facing a mandatory prison term of between 17 and 32 years, according to the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

“I’m relieved it’s over,” said the victim in the case, a 76-year-old Basalt woman, who asked that her name not be used.

“When he was holding that gun to my head, I kept thinking that my kids are going to get word that their mother has been murdered,” she said. “I would never get to meet my grandchild.”

Guilty plea trifecta

Sanchez’s two accomplices, Rafael Vega Sanchez and Michael Hawkins, had already pleaded guilty to charges and were prepared to testify against Sanchez, said prosecutors Lisa Hunt and John Franks.

Vega Sanchez, who’s not related to Sergio Sanchez, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to commit theft, both Class 4 Felonies. He will be sentenced Feb. 5, and is expected to serve six years in a youth-offender detention facility.

Vega Sanchez, of Rifle, was 17 when he took part in the robbery. He is now 18 years old.

Hawkins, 25, of Parachute, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his part in the robbery. When he was being sentenced, District Court Judge Fred Gannett said it could be reduced if he cooperated with prosecutors.

Sanchez is being held in Eagle County Jail on $500,000 bond. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 26.

“There was so much progress since this case started, thanks to the work of Detective Dan Loya with the Eagle County Sheriff’s office, Rick Wallingford, the Basalt Police Department and other law enforcement agencies,” Franks said.

What happened that day

The victim had returned home the day before from Oregon, where she had been visiting one of her sons for Thanksgiving in 2012. She was in the shower when she heard a loud noise coming from the front of her home.

At about 11:45 a.m. on Nov. 28, 2012, the men kicked in her front door and confronted her. They held her at gunpoint and forced her onto her bed, face down, and then forced her into the kitchen where she was forced to give them $70 from her purse. They then forced her into the shower and threatened that they’d kill her if she called the police.

She waited for a few minutes, then got dressed and fled to a neighbor’s home where she called the police.

Among the items stolen from the woman were a ring worth $24,000, an iPhone and an iPad. The total came to $27,000.

Help from Oregon

Her son in Oregon said he was upset because he was all the way out there and his mother was in Basalt.

Then he remembered that he had set up his mother’s iPhone the previous day, before his mother flew back to Colorado. Suddenly he realized that he could probably locate it using a program designed to help find lost or stolen phones.

He sat down in front of his computer and began tracking the phone, and sure enough the red dot from the tracking system led him straight down I-70 toward Rifle. He didn’t know who else to contact in Colorado, so he called his brother, who turned the information over to the police.

He took several screen shots of the images, which turned out to be the only physical evidence of the phone’s movement.

“Apple doesn’t keep those images for more than 24 hours, as part of their privacy policy,” Hunt said.

Police found the phone in Rifle’s Shawnee Court area. In fact, it was on a window ledge in Hawkins’ bedroom, in a home where he was staying. Police also found a cloth Crown Royal bag containing four stolen rings. One of those rings was later identified as belonging to the victim.

Hawkins had offered to sell the friend the iPhone, but the friend said that wouldn’t be smart because the phone could be tracked, said Rick Wallingford, a criminal investigator for the District Attorney’s office.

Hawkins told the friend that he and Sanchez had broken into a home that they thought would be unoccupied, but wasn’t, Wallingford testified.

Sanchez and Hawkins reportedly told the friend they had not expected anyone to be in the home when they decided to rob it, and that they had really “effed up,” Wallingford said.

When Basalt Police officer Brian Lemke searched a shed at Sanchez’s mother’s home, he found a small black backpack. The backpack was clean, but everything else in the shed was dusty and dirty, Lemke said.

He said it was heavy when he picked it up. He opened it to find two handguns, a Taurus .38 caliber revolver and a Glock 19, a 9 mm semi-automatic. The Taurus was listed as stolen by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The Glock was listed among items stolen during a burglary in Garfield County, Lemke said.