Officials were unaware of boot-camp regulations
When law enforcement officials charged a group of local teens with crimes of violence last year, they did not realize they were barring them from enrollment in the “boot camp” program.
As a result, at least two of the 12 teens involved in last summer’s crime spree have been sent into the Colorado state prison system for fairly lengthy sentences, even though court officials repeatedly mentioned the boot-camp option as a possibility for shortening the prison terms.
“This was something none of us knew about,” said one of the defense attorneys involved in the interwoven cases against the 12 young men. “The judge didn’t know, the [district attorney] didn’t know and we didn’t know.”
Two of the teens, Jacob Richards and William “Wade” Hammond, both 18, were recently sent to prison for four years and three years, respectively, for their roles in recent robberies.
Richards pleaded guilty to taking part in a burglary of a home in the Twining Flats neighborhood in September 1999. But according to court records, he also supplied information to a group of his friends who used that information to rob Clark’s Market in Aspen at gunpoint on Aug. 5, 1999.
Richards had worked at Clark’s prior to the robbery, and was charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery after his name came up in testimony from several of the others involved in the crime.
Hammond was charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery in connection with the Aug. 19, 1999 heist of The Village Market in Snowmass Village, during which a clerk was pistol-whipped by one of the robbers.
Because the initial charges involved violent crimes, even though both young men saw those charges reduced to nonviolent status as a result of the plea-bargain process, they were never eligible for boot camp, state corrections officials have said.
Boot camp, the informal name for the Regimental Inmate Training Program, is a 90-day regimen of intensive physical exercise and classroom work open only to qualified, nonviolent inmates between the ages of 18 and 30. Upon completion of boot camp, an inmate can petition the sentencing judge for reconsideration, which often leads to sentence reductions or conversion to probation.
Some individuals close to the defendants have expressed surprise that neither the prosecutors nor the defense attorneys mentioned the ineligibility of the two men during their final days in court, even though the boot-camp option was brought up several times.
But Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills freely admitted this week that he does not know the details of the sentencing restrictions and requirements of the Colorado Department of Corrections. And he said that even if he had that knowledge, he would not have altered the charges filed in the cases.
“I don’t file charges based on how I think it will end up,” he said. “I had more than a good-faith basis [for the conclusion] that they committed those crimes.”
And, he said, “We were under the impression that the guys that had guns in their hands would not go to boot camp, and the guys without guns could go to boot camp. We thought they’d be great boot-camp candidates.”
He said one reason he was unfamiliar with the relevant statutes in this situation is that not many “aggravated crimes,” meaning crimes involving the use of weapons or violence, are tried in this area.
He said that one result of defendants pleading guilty to nonviolent crimes is that they will become eligible for parole sooner than if they had been convicted of the original violent-crime charges.
Wills said his dealings with the other defendants will not be affected by the fact that most of the young men linked with the crime spree are not eligible for boot camp because they were initially charged with crimes of violence.
Five of the defendants in the cases have made plea agreements with the district attorney but have yet to be sentenced, including Alex Cassatt, 19; Moses Greengrass, 19; Yuri Ognacevic, 18; Cody Wille, 17; and an unnamed minor.
Four others have yet to reach plea agreements and may go to trial on the charges against them, including Thomas Colver, 19; Anthony Rizzuto, 19; Stefan Schutter, 18; and Shea Treadwell Estes, 18.
Wills also noted that every one of the young men convicted of being part of the crime spree has one opportunity to file a petition with the court for reconsideration of his sentence.
“I’m sure all of them will at some point,” Wills predicted. He said that the normal procedure for such filings is to wait until the convict has served a significant portion of the sentence, so that the judge will not automatically deny the petition because the convict has not paid enough of his debt to society.
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