Judge frees former bank teller | AspenTimes.com

Judge frees former bank teller

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A former Alpine Bank teller convicted of pocketing the bank’s money was freed from jail by a judge Monday in Pitkin County District Court.

Susana Braunthal, 52, will not spend the next two years in Pitkin County Jail as she was ordered to do in a June 3 sentencing hearing. Instead, District Court Judge J.E. DeVilbiss freed Braunthal to leave his jurisdiction and join her family in Hawaii.

DeVilbiss agreed to reconsider Braunthal’s sentence after her attorney, Fred Gannett, revealed that she had already paid off the $4,000 in restitution in the theft case. Prosecutors expressed surprise over the quick compensation ? Braunthal previously argued that she and her family would not be able to afford the hefty fine.

“It does leave one with a feeling of disingenuousness,” Deputy District Attorney Katie Sullivan said of the sudden payment.

She also argued a sentence reduction would not adequately punish Braunthal, who has never admitted to the crime for which she was jailed and convicted.

“Her denial and lack of remorse has always been a concern for the [prosecution],” Sullivan said.

DeVilbiss briefly argued that Braunthal had not expressed regret for the theft and should therefore not be freed.

“I’m not sure, Ms. Braunthal, that you accept responsibility for the situation you see yourself in,” he said.

However, DeVilbiss seemed to experience a sudden change of heart a short time later. The judge reduced Braunthal’s sentence to 90 days in jail but, having served 106 days so far, she was released shortly after leaving the court Monday.

Braunthal was first charged with stealing from Alpine Bank in late 1999 after a fellow teller reported a shortage when counting her cash drawer. Police and bank management reviewed a video surveillance tape and, after repeated viewings, discovered a short segment that apparently showed Braunthal walking to the neighboring teller’s drawer and sticking her hand inside. However, the worn-out tape did not actually show her taking the money.

Braunthal’s case was sent to trial shortly after her arrest, but proceedings were called off in February 2000 when DeVilbiss ruled that the tape, seriously damaged after repeated viewings by police and bank officials, was inadmissible due to its “very degraded state.” Gannett also requested that testimony from Braunthal’s co-workers be excluded, claiming that their opinions were warped by watching the damaged tape.

DeVilbiss’s decision was reversed late last year by the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled the taped evidence was admissible, since it was not destroyed by “state action.” The ruling also stated that the district attorney’s office could use still photographs taken from the surveillance tape in late 1999, copied before the tape was too severely damaged.

Braunthal’s case returned to Pitkin County in mid-April for a three-day trial. She was convicted of felony theft.

Her original sentence included two years of work-release from the Pitkin County Jail, eight hours of community service and a few sessions with a mental health specialist. Gannett argued Monday that, having paid off her restitution with a job at the Mountain Chalet and her community-service stint at A Grassroots Aspen Experience, Braunthal had paid her debt to society.

Braunthal will now be allowed to join her family in Hawaii, though she will remain on probation for the next two years.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]

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