Man who took hostages in 2016 incident on Independence Pass near Aspen sentenced to 12 years in prison
A Colorado Springs realtor was sentenced to 12 years in prison Monday for holding three men hostage at gunpoint on Independence Pass in July 2016 and repeatedly threatening to kill them.
“I had no intention of harming anyone that day,” Brolin McConnell said in court Monday before he was sentenced. “I am extremely sorry for what they have gone through and what the community has gone through.
“I’m not the same person (I was) prior to going insane.”
McConnell’s case has been through numerous stages since he used two handguns to hold the three young men hostage for more than an hour four-and-a-half years ago on Lincoln Creek Road. He initially pleaded not guilty to the 18 felonies, including attempted first-degree murder, that had been filed against him.
But after a year and a half in the Pitkin County Jail, McConnell changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. That delayed the case another 14 months while psychiatrists at the state hospital in Pueblo examined him and eventually found him sane.
McConnell, 34, pleaded guilty in December to criminal attempt to commit first-degree kidnapping and felony menacing and faced between eight and 20 years in prison as part of a plea deal with the District Attorney’s Office.
McConnell was scheduled to be sentenced a month ago, but his Denver-based lawyer wasn’t able to land in Aspen because of weather. However, one of the three victims who’d traveled to Aspen from his home in Hawaii spoke at that time so he would not have to return Monday for the actual sentencing.
“Prior to this incident I was just a simple kid from Hawaii,” Blake Ramelb said last month. “Now I can’t go anywhere without images (from that day) in my head. My life is forever held hostage by this man.”
Ramelb had a foot injury that day and could not easily run away from McConnell, which the two other hostages were able to do. Ramelb said he begged McConnell repeatedly not to shoot him.
“I said, ‘I’m not ready to die,’” Ramelb said.
McConnell, however, merely smiled at his pain and repeatedly threatened to shoot him in various parts of his body and watch him “bleed out,” Ramelb said.
McConnell fired a shot from one of the guns at Ramelb’s feet and another beside his head. An Aspen Police officer witnessed McConnell fire the shot next to Ramelb’s head and said he thought Ramelb was a dead man. Ramelb thought the same thing.
“I knew the next shot would be the one that would take my life,” he said. “I was begging the officers to help me.”
Ramelb said he will not feel safe once McConnnell gets out of prison.
A second hostage, who asked not be identified, spoke in court Monday and said he’s been robbed at gunpoint twice in Dallas, where he’s from, and that McConnell scares him far more than those robbers. McConnell pointed the handgun at his head, threatened to shoot him in the face and kept flicking the gun’s safety on and off all the while smiling and making odd statements and jokes, he said.
When McConnell asked them to “get in an execution line,” he said he looked at his friend who he’d gone up to Lincoln Creek with to camp, and thought, “See you in the next life.”
Today, he said he thinks of the incident daily, has “trust issues,” routinely sits in the back of rooms and has nightmares that can ruin his entire week.
“I’m fearful for my life and he’s not even in prison yet,” the victim said Monday.
Prosecutor Don Nottingham read a statement from the third hostage, Mark Meredith, who said he has post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident. He said it affects his ability to go to school and that he’s been told he needs to get therapy, but doesn’t have time for it.
“To say that this changed the trajectory of my life is an understatement,” Meredith said.
All three men asked District Judge Chris Seldin to impose the maximum 20-year sentence.
Nottingham also urged the judge to give McConnell the maximum, saying it was “one of the most terrifying and dangerous” incidents to have occurred here in recent years.
But Harvey Steinberg, McConnell’s lawyer, reminded the judge that his client had no prior criminal history, did not plan to take people hostage and that he suffers from mental health issues.
“This case is driven by mental illness that clearly Mr. McConnell was suffering from at the time,” Steinberg said. “He simply lost it that day.”
McConnell has since been prescribed medicine that treated his mental health symptoms and “settled him down,” Steinberg said.
McConnell’s mother said her son “had been under great stress” at the time of the incident because of his workload, lack of sleep and a recent divorce. He’s also suffered while in jail, when he’s lost both his houses, all his possessions and money and, most importantly, his two children’s childhoods, she said.
“Brolin has always been a thoughtful son to us,” said Noreen McConnell, adding that he’s never been violent. “He’s a hard worker with a strong ethic.”
Judge Seldin wondered aloud Monday how differently things might have turned out if no guns were present. In that case, McConnell likely would have received probation focused on mental health treatment, he said.
As it was, the situation “turned out about as bad as it could” without anyone ending up dead, Seldin said.
However, a 20-year prison sentence would only serve as retribution when what McConnell really needs is consistent mental health treatment, the judge said. Seldin urged McConnell’s friends and family members — many of whom attended Monday’s sentencing — to help him deal with the paranoid delusions he experiences by ensuring he takes his medication.
McConnell was given credit for the 1,315 days he’s already spent in jail in Pitkin County.
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