Jury convicts, acquits man in Aspen cocaine case
December 17, 2010
ASPEN – An Aspen man was convicted Thursday of a class-six felony count of possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine, and acquitted on a same, different charge.
It took a Pitkin County jury, comprised of seven men and five women, nearly 90 minutes to arrive at the verdict. The jury listened to testimony Wednesday and Thursday. The defendant, 42-year-old Keith Ames, did not testify.
According to Chip McCrory, the court-appointed attorney for Ames, taking the case to a jury trial was done to keep Ames’ options open. That’s because McCrory has contended that Aspen police violated Ames’ Fourth Amendment rights (search and seizure) when they confiscated a wallet – which they believed to be his – and found a small bag of cocaine in it.
Last summer, District Judge James Boyd deemed the search constitutional, ruling against McCrory’s motion to suppress the incriminating evidence – namely, the wallet police found. McCrory said he plans to appeal Boyd’s ruling. Should the Colorado Court of Appeals overturn Boyd’s ruling, then the prosecution would lack the key evidence to charge Ames.
“If you plead guilty, you lose the right to appeal,” McCrory said.
Additionally, McCrory said he felt Ames had nothing to lose by going to trial. That’s because Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin previously had offered him one year in the Department of Corrections in exchange for a guilty plea to violating his bail bond – connected to the cocaine possession case – in July when he was arrested for felony burglary.
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Confident that Ames would not be sentenced to prison if convicted in the cocaine trial, McCrory rejected the offer.
“This [cocaine] case was not rocket science,” McCrory said after the trial Thursday. “The verdict in this case came back the way I thought it would.”
Mordkin said he felt there was no reason to arrange a plea deal in the cocaine case against Ames.
“There was no obligation on my part to make an offer,” he said.
This week’s trial came after Ames was arrested in the early morning hours of March 10 at the Mountain Chalet Aspen. Police responded to the lodge after a woman he had been staying with said he would not leave, even though she’d asked him to. The woman, Theresa Hanson-Harrison, who’s been in and out of the local court system on drug charges, did not testify in this week’s trial.
Aspen Police Officer Jeff Fain testified Wednesday that when he arrived at the lodge, Ames was asleep. After some prodding by police, Ames eventually left the Aspen Chalet and went to his van, but returned shortly later. Police hadn’t yet left, and Ames told them he had returned to get his wallet, which he had left in a safe in the bedroom.
During that time, Fain spotted a wallet on a bedroom dresser. Both Hanson-Harrison and Ames said it wasn’t theirs, so Fain opened it up, found a credit card with Ames’ business’s name on it, a credit card receipt, and a small plastic bag of coke, the officer testified.
Meanwhile, Ames retrieved his wallet from the safe, and left the lodge. Outside the lodge, Fain arrested Ames on one cocaine possession charge. Later at the Pitkin County Jail as Ames was booked, police found another baggy containing cocaine in the wallet he had retrieved from the safe, Fain said.
That led to two class-six felony charges of cocaine possession, less than 1 gram. Combined, the two small, plastic bags yielded nearly nine-tenths of 1 gram, according to McCrory.
The jury convicted Ames on cocaine possession stemming from the wallet that came from the safe; it acquitted him on the wallet police found on the dresser.
McCrory said if he prevails in the appeal, both counts would likely go away because the wallet found on the dresser led to the cocaine charge stemming from the wallet retrieved from the safe.
Ames also faces two other felony charges – second-degree burglary and violation of bail bond conditions – from an alleged July 9 incident at Matsuhisa restaurant. The burglary charge stems from him entering the sushi restaurant during non-business hours in the middle of the afternoon and allegedly pouring himself a drink. The violation of the bail bond condition comes from being charged for a felony while he was out on bond during the cocaine case. The case is pending.
Sentencing for the cocaine conviction is set for March 7. Ames faces one year to 18 months in the Department of Corrections, but probation appears more likely because he has no felony convictions on his record, McCrory said.
Senior Judge Arthur Smith presided over the trial.