McDowell gets life in prison |

McDowell gets life in prison

Heather McGregor

MEEKER – Chuck McDowell, 56, was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder in the Sept. 23, 1998, shooting death of his wife of seven years, Ruth Ann McDowell.

He was immediately sentenced to life in prison by Judge Thomas Ossola.

McDowell offered a dry-eyed apology for the deed, which he read aloud facing the judge, with his back to the 20 weeping relatives gathered in the courtroom.

“I have caused hurt that will last many years. Not a day or night goes by that I don’t relive and regret what I’ve done. It was so wrong.

“I don’t expect to be forgiven by everyone, because I can’t even forgive myself. I am truly sorry,” McDowell said.

Edna Otto of South Hutchinson, Kan., one of three sisters of Ruth Ann McDowell who sat through the entire trial, told the court that she and her relatives have lived through 14 months of pain and tears.

“The question of `Why?’ has been on our minds constantly. Ruth Ann was imperfect, but she did not deserve the death penalty,” Otto said.

Then she thanked District Attorney Mac Myers for not seeking the death penalty for McDowell. Turning to her former brother-in-law, Otto said, “Chuck, I trust you will make a contribution in prison. I hope you ask God to help you get on with the rest of your life.”

She mentioned the confusion, pain and loss felt by Ruth Ann’s children and grandchildren, and asked McDowell to “pray daily for those of us you have wronged. That is the best you can do for us now.”

In his apology, McDowell said he has begun reading the Bible. “I believe I have been forgiven by God,” he said.

The verdict and sentencing came Tuesday afternoon at the close of a seven-day murder trial that was moved to Meeker because too many Garfield County residents knew about the Glenwood Springs murder case.

Jury foreman Mike Brennan, chief flight instructor at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, said the nine-man, five-woman jury reached its verdict “by listening to everybody, one at a time.”

The jury deliberated for three hours, and Brennan said, “Everybody’s hearts were going like a trip hammer from the time we started deliberating.”

In the end, they found McDowell guilty of first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree murder committed during a felony crime, aggravated robbery and theft.

When the verdict was announced by Judge Ossola, a wave of emotion swept through the courtroom. Tears and smiles emerged among Ruth Ann’s many relatives. Tears and sorrow enveloped McDowell’s two daughters and son, who have kept to themselves throughout the trial.

Tuesday’s session began with closing arguments by Myers and Public Defender Greg Greer.

clearly admitted, for the second time in the trial, that Chuck McDowell killed his wife while she tallied receipts after closing time in a back office of the Glenwood Springs Rite-Aid store.

“Something tragic has happened. Ruth Ann McDowell has been killed. Chuck McDowell did that. Chuck McDowell is solely responsible for the death of Ruth Ann McDowell.

“Nobody says Chuck McDowell’s conduct is all right, that what he did is excused, that it’s justified,” Greer added.

But he questioned the prosecution’s premise that McDowell committed a robbery, largely because Ruth Ann was already dead when McDowell stepped over her body to take $7,000 in cash from the vault.

If the jury had doubt about robbery, he said, it would also have doubt about the felony murder charge.

Greer also raised doubts about the first-degree murder after deliberation charge, which would send McDowell to prison for the rest of his life. He argued that McDowell was intoxicated after drinking a half-pint of whiskey and could not have deliberately committed the crime.

And he argued that hurtful comments made by Ruth Ann to her husband in the months leading up to the killing amounted to cumulative provocation, making the killing a crime of passion.

Greer also brought out McDowell’s revolver, and argued that the hair-trigger setting when the gun was in single-action mode could mean it was fired unintentionally.

“We’re talking about the critical moment of reflection,” Greer said, describing the moment when McDowell stood in the doorway pointing the revolver at Ruth Ann’s head. “That much of a defect leaves a doubt. Fast trigger, slow mind.”

But Myers pointed to McDowell’s behavior after the shooting as evidence that he did the deed with intent.

“If a person acts on impulse, they will express regret and remorse later on. But at the state mental hospital, and in his interview with [Glenwood Springs Police Chief] Terry Wilson, Mr. McDowell’s overriding feeling was embarrassment,” Myers said.

“He is so wrapped up in himself that he only thinks about how this event relates to him, not how it affected Ruth Ann,” Myers added.

He rejected the intoxication defense, citing a half-dozen witnesses in close contact with McDowell the night of the shooting who testified that there was no evidence of drinking.

“Being intoxicated is not a license to kill. It is only a defense. But you heard Chuck McDowell tell Terry Wilson that he drank to bolster his intent, not to overcome it,” Myers said.

“The mere act of pointing a loaded revolver at Ruth Ann McDowell and firing is intent to kill,” he said.

“This trial is about accountability. Any verdict other than first-degree murder would not be justice in this case,” Myers said.

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