Jail release set for defendant in Snowmass standoff
ASPEN – A Snowmass Village man arrested after an 18-hour standoff with deputies and allegedly having violent altercations with his girlfriend is on the brink of being released from jail so he can address medical and mental issues in New Mexico.
Edward Russ Armstrong, 36, took the first step Monday in Pitkin County District Court by pleading no-contest to first-degree criminal trespass, a felony. The charge relates to an alleged episode he had with his Aspen girlfriend in the days leading up to the standoff.
Tuesday, Armstrong is expected to plead guilty in county court to harassment, a misdemeanor, in connection with a Sept. 9 and 10 incident in which he stands accused of firing more than 20 gunshots from his rental home off of Owl Creek Road and making verbal threats to law enforcement authorities. Authorities closed the road for 18 hours. The standoff ended peacefully when a friend who was able to enter the residence during the incident talked Armstrong into surrendering.
Both cases are part of a so-called global plea disposition that Armstrong reached with Pitkin County prosecutors. The agreement calls for Armstrong to serve concurrent terms of two years’ probation for each case.
When initially told of the deal during Monday’s hearing, District Judge Gail Nichols expressed reservations about blessing the arrangement. But after poring through letters to the court in support of Armstrong and hearing about what has ailed him, the judge agreed the plea bargain was in his and the community’s best interest.
Nichols also gave Armstrong, who has been incarcerated since the standoff, 59 days of credit for the time he has spent in Pitkin County Jail.
Upon his release, the agreement stipulates that he will live with his family in New Mexico. His father has arranged for him to have one of his legs amputated in Texas. The surgery is the result of a skiing accident Armstrong had in 2010, when he broke both of his legs and ankles.
Armstrong also has endured head injuries from previous skiing and paragliding accidents – more recently he suffered a 7,000-foot fall while paragliding, said his public defender, Laura Koenig.
Brain scans performed in the wake of the standoff showed Armstrong had suffered from severe psychiatric episodes – products of his thrill-seeking pursuits – that help explain his mental state at the time of the Owl Creek incident, Koenig said.
Also, in the weeks leading to the standoff, Armstrong had stopped taking prescription medications for psychiatric issues, both he and Koenig told Nichols. Armstrong said he stopped “cold turkey” and was sick for two to three weeks, unable to sleep.
“I was not myself, to say the least,” he said.
Armstrong expressed appreciation for the “unconditional support” of his father, Joe Armstrong, of La Mesa, N.M., who attended Monday’s hearing.
“I am very grateful for my father standing by me,” he said.
He added, “It is my hope and desire, with the appropriate medications, that I can mitigate this altogether.”
While Armstrong conceded that he made embarrassing mistakes – “I don’t believe this is going to happen again,” he said – he also said the domestic-violence-related charges against him lacked merit.
One week after the standoff, which led to misdemeanor charges of prohibited use of weapons, harassment and reckless endangerment, prosecutor Arnold Mordkin slapped Armstrong with more serious charges connected to allegations made by his girlfriend. Mordkin charged Armstrong with three felonies – criminal mischief, first-degree trespass and harassment.
Just days before the standoff, Armstrong allegedly threw a chair at his girlfriend and punched out her car’s windshield.
Armstrong said he was pleading no-contest because he was not guilty. However, a no-contest plea, while not an admission of guilt, nets the same punishment as a guilty plea.
But with the two-year deferred judgment, the conviction will be expunged from Armstrong’s record provided he stays out of trouble during that period. Armstrong said the no-contest plea, when factored with the global disposition, made the best sense for him.
“I am happy with the offer the district attorney has presented to me so I do not have a felony on my record,” he told the judge.
Armstrong said that he is ready to start a new era in his life, or “Chapter 2,” as he called it. He said he was encouraged by a recent jail visit from a friend, who told him, “When you think you are at the end of the world, you realize the world is round.”
Nichols said that the letters of support for Armstrong demonstrate that he is a person of potential.
“You obviously have a large capacity for enjoying life,” she said, “because so many people enjoy you.”
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