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Important cases loom for DA’s office

Chad Abraham

May 31 looms large for the depleted district attorney’s office in the 9th Judicial District.A convicted murderer’s trial on 10 charges of sex assault on a child and a release hearing for a man who sexually assaulted at least 15 children and escaped twice from a mental institution will both begin that day in Glenwood Springs.With a host of deputy district attorneys and office personnel resigning in recent weeks, doubt has been cast on the office’s ability to handle felony prosecutions. Critics have also said three recent cases in which felony defendants pleaded guilty to misdemeanors show the lack of prosecutorial firepower.”They don’t have anybody other than Vince [Felletter, assistant district attorney] who can try felony cases,” said Martin Beeson, one of five deputies to resign under District Attorney Colleen Truden since she took office in January; all cited her management style and decision-making in their decisions to resign.Glenwood lawyer Sherry Caloia, a vocal critic of Truden who is planning a recall effort, called the upcoming cases “tremendously important.” Caloia is the town prosecutor for Basalt and Carbondale.Truden, a former municipal court judge, has never tried a felony-level case.One of the May 31 cases involves Alfred Owens, 53, a former Silt resident. He was arrested in July 2003 on 10 counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. In the nearly two years since he was charged, Owens has pleaded not guilty to all of the counts. Two more charges were filed against him in that time, as well, according to court records.Owens was originally scheduled to be tried in November 2004, but his public defender, Greg Greer, was involved in a car wreck. The trial was canceled so the suspect, who has twice waived his right to a speedy trial, could find another lawyer.After the trial was canceled, legal motions started anew for Owens. An arrest warrant in the case says he has convictions for murder, kidnapping, sexual assault on children, theft, burglary, robbery and aggravated kidnapping.According to the warrant, he was the step-grandfather to twin boys in their teens. He allegedly told them “about an incident that occurred while Owens was in prison [in which] he had been sexually assaulted anally by another inmate and that he liked it,” the warrant says.The warrant contains the boys’ graphic allegations against the suspect. He also allegedly molested a girl in Avondale, east of Pueblo.The case was originally prosecuted by former Deputy District Attorney Jim Wilson, who was elected district attorney in the 22nd Judicial District in Cortez in January. He gave the case to Jeff Cheney, who resigned April 15.Cheney was not available for comment. Beeson said Cheney offered to stay through the end of May but was escorted out of the district attorney’s office a few days after giving notice. His exit means the office will have had a month and a half to prepare for a type of case that Wilson said is exceedingly difficult to prosecute.”One thing that runs through cases of this nature is that you have an inherent lack of physical evidence,” he said Thursday. “You have a lot of statements, and then you have other things which are more esoteric evidence. Sexual assault on children cases are crimes with secrecy. So you’ve really got your work cut out to go ahead and look for the things that corroborate the statements.”Wilson, who specialized in investigating sex crimes on children in his prior career as a detective, said he had many conversations with Owens’ alleged victims during the arduous process of gaining the victims’ trust.”On top of talking about sexual experiences, imagine what that is like for them to have to deal with and have to testify,” Wilson said.A great deal of time was spent reassuring the children “that we were going forward with this and that we would stand by them all the way,” he said. Cheney also had similar conversations with the teens as he prepared for trial, Wilson added.A reporter who went to Truden’s office in Glenwood Springs yesterday to get details of her preparations for the case was told that she and an assistant district attorney were busy in a meeting. A message left there was not returned.Larry Eubanks, 54, will also be in a Glenwood courtroom May 31. Caloia called him “a real sexual predator” who escaped twice from the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.In 1979, the former Grand Junction resident was found not guilty of sexual assault on a child by reason of insanity. The trial was held in Glenwood Springs, which is why his release hearing is being held there. An article in the Pueblo Chieftain from October 1997 details what happened after Eubanks arrived in Pueblo.”In 1980, Eubank [the article says he has six aliases] escaped from the state hospital. He lived in Colorado and Mexico for a while,” according to the article, then went to California.The Chieftain quotes an institute spokeswoman as saying that after his escape in 1980, “nothing happened. But our info is real scarce.””What happened in California,” according to the article, “was Eubanks went on a spree, molesting as many as 30 children.”He was caught, sentenced to 21 years in prison and paroled in 1992. The Chieftain story says he was arrested after being paroled and remanded back to the Pueblo institution. Eubanks is also mentioned in a Denver Post article in October 1999 about another escapee from the hospital.The story says “Larry Eubanks … escaped from the same buildings on Sept. 27, 1997, and is still at large, [a hospital spokeswoman] said.”She told the Post that “we can hope that he’s taking his medication but we don’t know that.” Details on how he ended up back in Pueblo were not available because of state privacy laws.The May 31 hearing in Glenwood Springs will decide whether he is freed. Caloia said Felletter will represent the district attorney’s office at the hearing.”He would be living in Grand Junction if he is released, according to what he is saying,” Caloia said.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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